film fatales #153: titane (julia ducournau, 2021)

This is the sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 6 is called "Top 250 Horror Week":

Recommended by kubrikonthefist.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Letterboxd’s Top 250 Horror Films list.

The headline writer for the San Francisco Chronicle had the proper amount of hyperbole in that paper's review of this movie: "‘Titane’ is really, really, really crazy — but it strikes a chord".

The less you know in advance, the better, although the basic plot is loony enough that it may not matter what you know. (An early pre-release blurb said only that "Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years.") Titane is an example of body horror (Wikipedia: "a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body"). David Cronenberg is the name that usually comes to mind when the subject of body horror films comes up, but especially relevant to Titane, the movie I think of is Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which I really, really, really hated. That film deserves a second viewing, I'm sure ... I'd never seen anything like it at the time, and I think that threw me off. Tetsuo tells of a man whose flesh gradually turns into metal. Something similar happens to the lead character in Titane, but something about it seemed more delightfully outrageous than in Tetsuo.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau seems to have put her vision of the film onto the screen, which doesn't always happen, and which suggests producers who trusted her. This may account for the "really really really" aspects of the film ... Titane is only 108 minutes long, but it feels like if Ducournau thought something belonged, she filmed it, leaving us with a movie that is packed with more than I admittedly could take in. That obscure tagline turns out to be quite accurate, pointing us in the direction of the relationship between father and son, while hinting at those unexplained crimes (they are explained in the movie, but I'm not spoiling it here). Ducournau dares the audience to look past the horror to the basic theme of unconditional love. She piles on the horrors, she makes it very difficult to look past those horrors, but without those horrors, unconditional love would hardly have been tested. The acting of Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon makes that acceptance more believable.

Titane won the Palme d'Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.


sweet hours (carlos saura, 1982)

It seemed appropriate that I watch a Spanish film while I'm in Spain, so I chose this one. It's hard to believe I'd never seen a Carlos Saura movie before, but apparently it's true. It seems that Sweet Hours is a lesser-known work ... the IMDB only lists two critics reviews, although Kael wrote about it ("Another graceful, measured Freudian-fantasy game").

I found the film hard to follow until about halfway through, when the structure became more apparent. There are essentially three different situations. A writer is making an autobiographical play, which is in rehearsals; flashbacks show us how he experienced his childhood; and the writer falls in love with one of the actors in his play. Part of my initial confusion comes from the fact that the same actress (Assumpta Serna) plays both the mother in flashback and the actress playing the mother in the play. The similaries are intentional ... it's suggested that she is cast in the play because she reminds the writer of his mother. And they fall in love, which relates to what Kael called the "Freudian-fantasy game", for the writer's relationship when he was a young boy to his mother is always just short of sexual.

The incest angle could be creepy, but Saura doesn't play it that way, and no matter how obvious it seems to the viewer, the sexual nature of the mother/son relationship is always suggested, never explicit. The cinematography by Teo Escamilla is always elegant; the film looks lovely. Sweet Hours is insightful in a gentle kind of way, with implications that return to you after you've seen the movie. Not a classic, but a worthy movie that encourages me to finally check out more Saura.


fascination (jean rollin, 1979)

Another entry in the Criterion Spooktacular scary movies for October. Fascination is in the "vampires" category, but it is only marginally part of that tradition, dealing more with blood drinking than with more traditional blood sucking. Writer/director Jean Rollin may have used some historical evidence that drinking ox blood was considered a legitimate therapy for anemia. In any event, that's where he starts, with well-to-do women taking the "cure". Of course, some patients get a bit carried away, but beyond that, I'll stay mostly spoiler free.

Fascination is yet another movie where the backstory is more interesting than what is on the screen. I admit I knew nothing of Rollin, who had a busy career. His first feature in 1968 was a vampire movie, which became an early specialty for him. The title of the followup suggested where Rollin's career might head: The Nude Vampire. His films apparently did not make a lot of money, and he resorted to directing hardcore porn under pseudonyms. As Fascination is the only one of his films I have seen, I can't really comment on his overall style, but it is a lush, low-budget film and that seems to match with what I have read about his work. I will say that Fascination did have a certain style, but I'm not all that interested in seeing more of his movies,

There is a lot of sex in Fascination, but that's not unusual in vampire movies, even ones like this that exist on the outskirts of the genre. The best thing about the movie is Brigitte Lahaie, who also had a unique career. She started her film work in hardcore porn. Rollin directed her in one of those films and found her charismatic, so he cast her in a subsequent mainstream movie, after which he made her the co-lead of Fascination. She does indeed capture the screen ... it's hard to take your eyes off of her, clothed or unclothed. While continuing to make exploitation films, Lahaie expanded into more mainstream work. She even had a talk radio show that ran for more than 15 years.

Fascination is a step above middling, but once again, I find myself shrugging my shoulders over a cult classic.


our mothers (césar díaz, 2019)

This is the first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 1 is called "Central American Independence Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following countries: Costa RicaNicaraguaHondurasEl Salvador, or Guatemala.

Our Mothers comes from Guatemala, and tells the story of the trials of the soldiers who committed atrocities against the people during the Civil War. While the trials are always in the background (and eventually come to the front), the central story is of a young forensic anthropologist who thinks he has found his long-lost father who fought for the guerillas.

There in an inherent drama in this story, and the acting has an honesty that deepens the audience's involvement. But César Díaz, who also wrote the screenplay, seems intent on making a movie devoid of sensationalism. An honorable intent, letting the actors and the narrative convey the seriousness of what we are seeing. But the film is too often flat ... it could have used a little sensationalism. Events unfold slowly, and at only 78 minutes, there isn't much time to get to the core of things. The final scenes feel rushed, and we haven't been properly prepared for them. Again, Díaz is to be praised for treating his characters as human beings who have already been exploited too much. But the impact of Our Mothers is dampened.


jean-luc godard (1930-2022)

I long considered myself a big fan of the work of Jean-Luc Godard, ever since the first time I saw Breathless and was so taken with it I stayed in my seat for a second straight showing. I never saw a Godard movie I didn't like, with the possible exception of A Woman Is a Woman, and even there, as I once wrote, "I’d still rather watch it than Captain Phillips." Breathless is the standout for me, but I was equally taken with Vivre Sa Vie, and so many others. But I can't really claim to be a big fan in the end, for while I've seen ten of Godard's movies, I never saw any that came after Weekend in 1967. And Godard made more than 100 films after that. I guess I have some catching up to do.

Here is a Letterboxd list of my 6 favorite Godard movies. And a few quotes from some of my writing on his films:

In the middle of the film, Breathless stops for about 20 minutes while Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg talk in her apartment. (I use the actors’ names intentionally … Godard has said the film could be seen as a documentary about the two.) It’s like seeing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in a prequel to the “Before” movies, if those two played amoral, self-absorbed icons instead of something resembling real people.

Vivre Sa Vie has a documentary sheen, but you can’t say we are encouraged to see it as a form of fictional cinéma vérité, because Godard interrupts our viewing experience in a Brechtian fashion, so we are always aware that the documentary sheen is constructed, not real. I appreciate that the above might suggest a dry film you wouldn’t watch if not forced to do so, but it is nothing of the sort. Anna Karina is as good as she has ever been.

Pierrot le Fou gives us an idea of what Bonnie and Clyde might have been like if that film’s producers had followed through on their attempt to get Godard to direct.

Masculin Féminin is the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola” one. Godard has a love/hate relationship with these young people; the pop singer seems shallow, the pop revolutionary seems, well, shallow, but then there’s the legendary interview with Miss 19, a young woman who makes the other people in the movie seem like Sartre and de Beauvoir. She is treated like the “consumer product” the intertitle calls her, and Godard is not in favor of consumer products. She is verbally destroyed in the scene, so much so that we start to feel sorry for her, which may not have been Godard’s intent. The movie in general is harder on the women than on the men, but they are all children of Coke. It’s not a cheery movie.

Weekend is infuriating, and you might think it doesn’t matter that Godard intends to infuriate. His command of the medium is immense, yet he seems intent on using that mastery solely to break our concentration, to frustrate us, daring us to not like his film.


the green ray (éric rohmer, 1986)

The Green Ray is the fourth Rohmer film I have seen, and I'm afraid I'm still not overly impressed. I like them OK, but that's as far as I want to go. The same ideas come up whenever I write about his films. I can't resist quoting my previous reviews. Thus, writing about both My Night at Maud's and Love in the Afternoon, I cited my comments on Claire's Knee. I guess you could say that Rohmer has a recognizable style. To copy myself again, in The Green Ray, a bunch of intelligent and articulate people talk a lot. Not for the first time in a Rohmer movie, I was reminded of Linklater's Before series. I love those movies, but I've never fallen in love with Rohmer.

Marie Rivière is strong in the lead role of Delphine, and her improvisations were important enough that she gets a co-writing credit with Rohmer. The dialogue is offhanded in a realistic way. I just never found Delphine to be compelling (surprising in that she reminded me at times of myself). She's adrift, intent on searching for something but lacking any insight into herself. "I don't have anything. Things aren't obvious to me. I'm not normal, like you. When I make an effort I try to listen, to talk to people. I listen, I watch what's going on. If people don't come to me it's because I'm worthless and... if I had something to show, people would see it, that's all."

Delphine isn't worthless, and you can see why her friends try to encourage her to blossom. But there isn't much growth. Rohmer doesn't construct a narrative out of her life, which you could argue just adds to the film's realism. But as she goes from Paris to the beach, back to Paris, to the Alps, back to Paris, to Cherbourg, finally to Biarritz, I finally lost interest. #312 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


"the telephone" (mario bava, 1963)

Many years ago, I wrote about a favorite horror movie from my youth, Black Sabbath. It was a 3-part anthology, hosted by Boris Karloff, who also appeared in one of the stories. I'm going to quote myself at length here:

One of the stories, “The Telephone,” is about a bisexual call-girl, Rosy, who keeps getting phone calls from her ex-pimp Frank, who has escaped from jail. Frightened, she calls her lesbian former lover Mary … they’re estranged, but Rosy has no one else to turn to, so her ex comes to her apartment. She gives Rosy a tranquilizer to help her sleep, then sits at a desk and writes a confession. She was the one making the calls, impersonating Frank … she heard Frank had broken out of jail and thought to scare Rosy, knowing Rosy would call her and she could come to her aid, bringing them together again. While she is writing her confession, Frank sneaks in, strangles her, then tries to kill Rosy. But Rosy has a knife under her pillow, and she kills Frank instead.

If you saw Black Sabbath when you were young, you might not remember this one in quite the same way. Turns out the entire episode was reworked for the American market. The lesbianism was removed … the estrangement now comes because Mary was with Frank and Rosy took him from her. Rosy was no longer a call-girl. Mary doesn’t impersonate Frank … Frank is the one calling Rosy, which is scary, because Frank died some time before this. The letter Mary writes, her “confession,” is now an admission that she will be calling a shrink for her friend, who is clearly deluded since she thinks she’s getting phone calls from a dead man. Frank shows up, kills Mary, Rosy kills Frank … and we get one last phone call, as Frank tells Rosy she can’t kill him because he’s already dead, and he’ll be calling her every night.

I go into such detail because the changes were so huge, yet were pretty seamless, i.e. I had no idea all of these years that I was seeing a different film entirely. Since the American version was dubbed, it was easy to change the dialogue to fit the new version. What was originally a noirish tale of love and revenge became a horror story about a ghost. As luck would have it, the version I saw was on MGM HD … and guess which version they have the rights to? Yep … I still haven’t seen the original.

Well, it turns out Kanopy has the original, called I tre volti della paura ("The Three Faces of Fear"). And I had recently recorded the film, and it was sitting on our DVR taking up space. So I decided to watch "The Telephone" in the original, and then again in the doctored American version. The above explanation is quite accurate. The American version also had a different soundtrack, provided by Les Baxter, that was more intrusive. Both versions had elements of suspense, but it was nice to finally see the original, with subtitles and its different plot.


le cercle rouge (jean-pierre melville, 1970)

Gradually, I am catching up to the work of Jean-Pierre Melville. Of course, he's been dead for almost 50 years, but better late than never. Le Cercle Rouge is my fourth Melville movie, and it's not just that I liked them all, it's that they are all very good indeed. Bob le Flambeur, Le Samouraï, Army of Shadows ... hard to pick a favorite amongst them. Le Samouraï in particular was a big influence on John Woo.

Le Cercle Rouge is another strong film. It was Melville's penultimate film ... he died in 1973. He wasn't well-served in the U.S. Le Samouraï, made in 1967, didn't make it to the U.S. until 1972, in a poorly-dubbed version titled The Godson (guess what hit movie had recently been released). Army of Shadows won multiple awards on its release in the USA ... almost 40 years after its initial release. Le Cercle Rouge, which runs 140 minutes, was released in America in a truncated version missing more than 40 minutes.

Le Cercle Rouge is a heist movie, and the actual heist is almost half-an-hour long and features no dialogue. (It's very tense, as you can imagine, but I also confess that at one point, what seemed to be a stationary camera focused on ... well, I don't know what. It took me about a minute to realize the Blu-ray was stuck.) I've seen a lot of Alain Delon's movies and they are all good-to-great. As I wrote about Purple Noon, "Alain Delon seems to intuitively know what makes a movie actor. It is rare that you see Delon doing anything ostentatious, and in those rare occasions, he is serving the script. For the most part, he watches others, learning how to become them in the manner of a chameleon, while his physical beauty grabs our attention no matter who or what else is on the screen."

I might start with Le Samouraï or Army of Shadows, but Le Cercle Rouge is equally worth your attention. #580 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


revisiting the 9s: dunkirk (christopher nolan, 2017)

[This is the tenth in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

When I first saw Dunkirk in 2018, I wrote:

Dunkirk is a success in almost every way.... here, I think [Christopher Nolan] uses his bag of tricks not just to show off, but to help the audience along, which turns out to be an excellent idea.

There are three basic stories in this telling of the Battle of Dunkirk, land, sea, and air. The sea is the most famous part of the story ... the civilian boats coming to rescue the troops are iconic reminders of the event. The troops waited on land ... meanwhile, aircraft provided cover for the boats. Nolan's structure for telling those stories is fascinating and effective.

A second viewing helped me realize that one of the best things about Dunkirk is the way it defines heroism. Too often, even an anti-war film gives us heroes to believe in who are essentially good at war, so we're rooting for people who go against the movie's theme. Nolan mostly bypasses this problem, perhaps because the story of Dunkirk isn't a story of victory, but a story of successful evacuation. The most memorable heroes, exemplified by Mark Rylance as Dawson, one of the civilian sailors called on to save the day, are steadfast, but their job isn't a gung-ho slaughter of the enemy, but rather to pull off a rescue operation.

The tremendous special effects (not CGI) truly bring home the horrors of war. Dunkirk is an amazing technical achievement. I don't know that I'm ready to give it the treasured 10/10, but it wouldn't bother me if someone did so.

Hans Zimmer's score is tremendous. I liked this video so much that I included it in my original post, and I'm going to include it again here.


like someone in love (abbas kiarostami, 2012)

Like Someone in Love was one of the last pictures from the noted Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Where Is the Friend's House?, Close-Up, Certified Copy). While I have only seen a small portion of the many films from Kiarostami, I've never seen one I didn't like, and Close-Up was probably the best film of 1990. Kiarostami filmed Like Someone in Love in Japan with a Japanese cast speaking Japanese, and you'd think the result would be a bit distanced from Japanese culture. But it actually has the feel of a Japanese film ... Ozu is often mentioned in discussions of the movie.

Like Someone in Love features three primary characters: Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a college student who also works as a call girl, her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryô Kase), and an elderly client (Tadashi Okuno). According to Kiarostami, Tadashi "had earned his living in film for 50 years, but had never uttered a line. He was a professional extra." It's an interesting piece of casting ... Tadashi Okuno was not an amateur, but he had a self-effacing presence that make his character feel natural in his imperfections. There is something resembling a plot, but you don't come to the movie wondering "what happens next". The forward progression of the film derives from the gradual unfolding of the characters as we learn more about them. However, it's never clear if the characters see themselves as progressing. We are on the outside, watching them, and from that we get the distancing I mentioned earlier.

There is a lot of dialogue in Like Someone in Love, and much of the film takes place indoors, in cramped environs. Nothing seems very private. We are stuck in close quarters with the characters, even as we as an audience are distanced from the people we see on the screen. In one remarkable scene (like many, it takes place inside a car), Akiko listens to a series of voicemails from her grandmother, which we hear, but Kiarostami shoots from outside the car, through the windows.

Like Someone in Love was shot entirely in digital, and the look can be distracting for those of us who still expect movies to look like film. In any event, the cinematography is impressive throughout. #403 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.