Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intriguing Films, Mostly French

(Oy, a tough week for writing: we're trying to buy a house, I'm in the midst of a huge stack of grading, and I'm in the middle of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The first two things are hellish, while the third is immensely enjoyable -- but all three have been distracting me from blogging...)

Over the past couple of weeks I've caught part or all of the following films, mostly on the Sundance Channel.

Paris Blues. This cross-racial jazz buddy film doesn't have the greatest script, but it has great music (the score is by Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong shows up as a character and musician in the film itself). It also introduced me to Diahann Caroll, one of the few black actresses who had a successful career in Hollywood in the 1960s and 70s. (See images of her in a series of roles at this fansite). Somewhere on the Internets (I can't find the link) I discovered that Caroll and Sydney Poitier (both married to other people) had had a raging affair before this film was shot, which threatened to undo their respective marriages. But they agreed to work with each other anyways, mainly because their roles in the film are progressive and quite natural (i.e., they are playing people who are more or less ordinary, not criminals or servants). So alongside the (slightly boring) didactic progressivism of the film and its brilliant music, there is a nice gossip element to Paris Blues. One other thing: the shots of Paris are stunning, especially Montmartre and the Seine.

8 Women. This is a very funny French murder-mystery with an ensemble, all-female cast, including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, and Emmanuelle Beart (to name only the three I had heard of). The best parts were the periodic eruptions into song by each of the 8 characters. Francis Ozon seems to have borrowed a page from Bollywood here, though the campy, ironic feel of this film as a whole is very un-Bolly. (Still, it might be interesting to imagine a slightly tweaked Bolly-version of this film... I know Rekha would be up for it...)

The Housekeeper. This is an unapologetic middle-aged man's (misogynistic) fantasy universe: a guy, divorced by his wife, hires a young, attractive housekeeper -- who subsequently throws herself at him. It's a little degoutante as a story, but the film has good performances from both leads and takes an understated, intelligent approach to its subject: they really want to convince you of the plausibility of this affair. Both S. and I were carried along by the film, but annoyed at it as well: just because it's a sophisticated French art movie doesn't mean the premise isn't fundamentally sexist! (Why aren't there more women screenwriters in French cinema?)

The Hairdresser's Husband. This film is a really just a trifle, but it's worth watching chiefly for Jean Rochefort's strange, manic dances to Arabic songs inside his wife's hair salon. You've never seen anything quite like it...

Diamonds and Rust. This Israeli film seems like an unlikely topic for an interesting documentary: the crew of a diamond trawler off the coast of Namibia. But it's all in the material, and these filmmakers have really good stuff. This is worthwhile viewing to anyone interested in how race, language/culture, and money collide in a small space. It's also just interesting to see how a diamond trawler works. (Click on the link for a good summary of the film)

Torture: The Dirty Business. Andrew Gilligan is a controversial figure in British journalism, mainly for his involvement in an Iraq pre-war intelligence scandal that led to the suicide of a government informant (see the full story at Wikipedia). He's also a ferocious left-leaning critic of the British and American governments. This documentary does feel biased at times, but it also has first-hand interviews with numerous victims of the U.S. government's "Extraordinary Rendition" program -- whereby people suspected of involvement in terrorism are flown on private Gulfstream airplanes to places like Syria and Egypt, where they are tortured. The most damning example is Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was tortured by the Syrians, kept in a brutal kind of solitary confinement, and then released after a year without charge.

Incidentally, the director of the film, Sarah MacDonald, has an interesting connection to India.


Rani said...

Good luck with the house. How exciting.

I *just* finished my grading/evalutations for the semester. So glad it's over!

re: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I was *so* excited for this book, but just couldn't get past page 80. What are you enjoying so much about the book? I am curious.

2:10 PM  
Amardeep said...

It definitely picks up a lot after Jonatah Strange enters the story -- he's everything Mr. Norrell isn't.

A lot of what Clarke is doing in the early part of the book is satirizing the learned quasi-scientific society of the late 18th century -- where science was a "gentlemanly" pursuit rather than a full-on profession. Some of the humor, I suspect, might be a little obscure to folks who don't noramlly deal with debates in British literary history about Augustan poetry, the Ancients and the Moderns, the Romantics, Grub Street, and so on. Alongside the parody of old science, I think Clarke's using "magic" to comment on the changing value of book-learning at the beginning of the modern era... [More on this soon]

Clarke gets more seriously into the actual magic stuff with Strange... And when she gets going with it, she really gets going. Some of the stuff about the Raven King later in the book is pretty marvelous.

Anyway, expect a long post from me on this book soon ... maybe Friday? There I'll try and explain why I'm liking it so much.

6:46 PM  
Jabberwock said...

Look forward to the long post on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell...yes, the book really does pick up after Strange makes his appearance, and I loved the Raven King portions too

4:12 AM  
flygirl said...

hi amardeep,

i'm delurking here...look forward to a long review of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. it takes time to pick up but isn't it worth it!

love your blog and read it religiously.

6:25 PM  
ana beynaam said...

it breaks my heart to hear "the hairdresser's husband" described as a trifle *mock sob* but yes jean rochefort's dancing to amr diab and other arabic music, and just jean rochefort himself is what makes this worth watching.

have you already seen "the double life of veronique"? also quite a few films with daniel auteuil (and i'm not just saying that 'cause i'm crazy 'bout him) are recommended, like "un coeur en hiver", "girl on the bridge", and "queen margot". there are others but those are all i recall at the moment.

good luck with house buying. having been on househunts with friends, i can attest to it being a harrowing experience sometimes. hope it's much easier for you. :)

10:20 PM  

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