Blind Spot Series: Black Orpheus (1959)

Black Orpheus

It’s the day before Carnaval, and a young woman named Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) has just arrived in Rio de Janeiro — but she’s not there to have a good time. Instead, she’s run away from her rural home to seek refuge with her cousin Serafina (Léa Garcia). A man has been pursuing her, she says, and when Serafina suggests that he’s simply interested in her for her looks, Eurydice disagrees: “I’m sure he wants to kill me.”

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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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Blind Spot Series: Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

Make Way for Tomorrow

Elderly couple Barkley and Lucy Cooper (Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi) have some bad news for their adult children: They’ve lost possession of their house, having fallen behind in their payments on it since Barkley stopped working four years earlier. The bank gave them six months to move out, but that time is almost up, and they’ve made no plans for the future. “Your father and I were hoping that something would turn up and we wouldn’t have to tell you at all,” Lucy explains. After some argument amongst themselves, the children come up with a solution. Daughter Nellie (Minna Gombell) “can practically promise” that she’ll be able to provide a home for both of her parents in three months; in the meantime, Lucy will stay with the couple’s son George (Thomas Mitchell) and Barkley with another daughter, Cora (Elisabeth Risdon). Although this arrangement makes sense in theory, it soon proves challenging — even painful — for everyone involved. It’s not easy for the different generations to live together, and that makes it all the harder for Barkley and Lucy to live apart.

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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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A Separation: I Fidanzati (1963)

Dance Hall

“We’ve been sweethearts for so long, so many years. More than sweethearts — you know what I mean — but we’ve never really spoken the way two lovers should. We each kept our thoughts to ourselves and were content just being together. But perhaps our being together was becoming a mere habit. Perhaps we didn’t realize we were each still alone.”

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