Three movies, all of which were directed by people whose work I have found intriguing in the past.
Bob le Flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1956). Melville’s Army of Shadows came out in 1969 but wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2006, which is a good short anecdote to demonstrate how Melville didn’t get enough respect during his career. Bob le Flambeur is difficult to place in film history, because it was/is many things. It’s a heist movie, albeit not the first. It often has the feel of a film noir. It was a big influence on the French New Wave, but it doesn’t really belong to that movement. Roger Duchesne is great in the title role ... he seems equally suave when he is flush and when he is broke. (“Flambeur” is variously translated as “gambler” and “high-roller”.) Isabelle Corey makes the viewer wonder just how old she is (in actual years, not old enough ... she was 17, or maybe 16, there are many versions ... in what she brings to her part, older than her years). The film is simple on the surface, but always suggests deeper meanings. In my mind, that’s a very French attribute. #829 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.
Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014). I liked Iñárritu’s debut, Amores Perros, quite a bit, and while his critical reputation seems to fluctuate, I’ve liked the others I’ve seen (21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) without thinking they reached the heights of the first film. Birdman adds to that list, good-not-great, making me think that Amores Perros wasn’t great either, but just really good. Iñárritu helpfully includes a speech by Michael Keaton’s Riggan that preempts any criticism:
Let's read your fuckin' review. "Lacklustre..." That's just labels. Marginality... You kidding me? Sounds like you need penicillin to clear that up. That's a label. That's all labels. You just label everything. That's so fuckin' lazy... You just... You're a lazy fucker. You know what this is? You even know what that is? You don't, You know why? Because you can't see this thing if you don't have to label it. You mistake all those little noises in your head for true knowledge. ... There's nothing here about technique! There's nothing in here about structure! There's nothing in here about intentions! It's just a bunch of crappy opinions, backed up by even crappier comparisons... You write a couple of paragraphs and you know what? None of this cost you fuckin' anything! The Fuck! You risk nothing! Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!
Well, pardon me! Still, the point is well-taken. I missed a couple of key items in the movie ... apparently it was a comedy, which I barely noticed, and it is driven in part by a parlor trick that makes the entire film look like it is one long take. What does it mean, that I didn’t even notice that trick? Was I so engrossed I didn’t notice things, or was I a lazy viewer? I think I know what Iñárritu would say. Winner of 4 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. #267 on the TSPDT 21st-century list. 7/10.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Chan-wook Park, 2005). Last film in the “Vengeance Trilogy”, which is a bit of a misnomer, since Park didn’t intend the films to be explicitly connected. The first of the films, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, bombed, and I found it mostly style over substance. But the second film, Oldboy, was so good I might have a little more sympathy for the first one. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance comes closer in quality to Oldboy than to the earlier film. Stylistically, the film is consistent with the others ... it would be nearly impossible to ignore how beautiful it is to look at. Park plays around some with narrative chronology, but this time it works ... anyone who has seen Oz or Orange Is the New Black will quickly pick up on the way Park conveys bits and pieces of various characters who, like the titular character, spend time in prison. Lady Vengeance also is clearer than Mr. Vengeance in explicating its meaning (“Everyone make mistakes. But if you committed a sin, you have to make an atonement for that sin. ... Big Atonement for big sins. Small Atonement for small sins.”). Park does a great job of suggesting more violence than he actually shows ... we get the buildup, we get the aftermath, but usually don’t see what happens on the screen. (And what happens ... well, let’s just say a lot happens. A little doggy is shot point blank, a woman cuts off one of her fingers, there is torture and lots and lots and lots of screaming, terrified children.) It all culminates in a remarkable final half-hour or so when a group of victims of horrible crimes first confront the reality of their loss, then discuss what to do about their desire for vengeance, and then finally act on that desire. Remarkable, yet I admit I wasn’t sure of the tone ... was this cathartic, or just revenge porn? Whichever, Park exposes some raw feelings. Min-sik Choi, so good in Oldboy and I Saw the Devil, is his usual fine self here, but the real draw is Yeong-ae Lee as Lady Vengeance. She is allowed to steal the show, and she succeeds. Oldboy remains the standard, but Lady Vengeance stands on its own as a very good film. Oh, and unlike with Birdman, this time I got that it was partly a comedy. #652 on the TSPDT 21st-century list. 8/10.