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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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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The Usual Unknowns: Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)

“Stealing is a serious profession. You need serious people.”

Cosimo Proietti (Memmo Carotenuto) has just received a tip about a job that could make him a fortune and set him up for life. Oh, sure, it’s not exactly a legitimate enterprise — it entails breaking into a pawnshop on Rome’s (fictitious) Via delle Madonne through the empty apartment next door and opening a locked safe — but Cosimo isn’t the sort of man to quibble about legality. In fact, that’s the sole problem with this scheme: He’s already in jail for attempting to steal a car, and he isn’t scheduled to be released for over a year. His only hope is to convince someone else to claim responsibility for his crime, thereby setting him free. Although he offers to pay the scapegoat 100,000 lire, none of his acquaintances are willing to take the rap: Capannelle (Carlo Pisacane) would be facing a life sentence due to his past convictions, Mario (Renato Salvatori) fears upsetting his mother, Michele (Tiberio Murgia) doesn’t want to abandon his closely guarded sister Carmela (Claudia Cardinale) or jeopardize her upcoming marriage, and Tiberio (Marcello Mastroianni) not only has a prior offense but also has to take care of his baby son while his wife (Gina Rovere) serves time for smuggling cigarettes. “Guys, you’ll never get an ex-con for 100,000 lire,” Tiberio tells the others. “You need someone with a clean record.”

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Blind Spot Series: The King and I (1956)

The King and I Title

In 1862, British widow Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr) and her son, Louis (Rex Thompson), arrive in Bangkok, where Anna is to teach the children of King Mongkut (Yul Brynner). The king has hired Anna because he wants his many offspring, as well as his many wives, to acquire the best of Western culture and knowledge. In exchange, he’s promised her £20 a month and a house of her own outside the palace walls — but when she arrives, she discovers that she and her son are expected to live inside the palace after all. The strong-willed, independent Anna confronts the king, despite being warned against it, and though he admires her for her lack of fear, he refuses to give her the house. She decides to return to England, only to change her mind after meeting the children. Still, she won’t give up on getting what she wants, and this won’t be her only conflict with the equally strong-willed king.

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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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