From Santa Barbara to Copenhagen
For this fourth issue, the journalist David Blot pulls us in the discovery of characters molded by these short histories which block our everyday life. Between poverty and eloquence. Never indifferent.
Cutter’s Way (1981)
We are in Santa Barbara, but far removed from the TV series of the same name. Cutter’s Way, a beautiful film by Czech director Ivan Passer – an unfortunate colleague of Milos Forman – is a neo-thriller derivative featuring total anti-hero characters, filmed on the West Coast of America. This is one of Jeff Bridges’ best roles – which is saying something given his career – whilst the rest of the cast is also very much up to par. Even though the film sometimes lacks control – such as with a particular scene that is made up of a series of hazardous ellipses – it is nonetheless a little gem of lost cinema, more violent than those of Jim Jarmusch, and less lyrical than Michael Cimino: we finally have something halfway. This is certainly one to rediscover.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Vu Double Indemnity (Assurance sur la mort, 1944). We are in Los Angeles for Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler’s adaptation of a detective novel by James M. Cain, who admitted to preferring the film version to his own novel. If “Double Indemnity” is the perfect example of film noir, magnifying many of the conventions (voice-over, manipulative woman, surreal dialogues and tragic outcomes) the plot, placed in the context of an insurance agency, helps to avoid all the usual police film clichés. With no private investigator and (almost) no cops either, the crime becomes more universal, as though you and I were the murderers. The pace is perfect: the film starts with a bang at the tail end of a mad car chase in the city and never weakens, the actors are exceptional and the dialogue is one to learn by heart. “Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money – and a woman – and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?” A Classic. An absolute classic!
Traffic Jam (L’ingorgo 1979)
We’re on an unidentified highway around Rome for this Franco-Italian comedy by the great Luigi Comenicini (Incompreso). From a proletarian worker to a hippie, a Berlusconi type to sassy Italian mamas, the volatile couple and a young man who is desperate to get back to his girl: every imaginable Italian cliché is found stuck here, all day and all night, in a huge traffic jam lost in a no-mans land of tar. What ensues is a series of small sketches that are not really interconnected, and despite some regretful over-exaggerations that were typical of the time (a rape scene, for example, mandatory in 1970’s movies), you will be struck by the neo-fantastic oppressive scenery and the impressive parade of stars: Alberto Sordi, Annie Girardot, Fernando Rey, Patrick Deweare, Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Miou-Miou and Gerard Depardieu! It all comes to a head at the tollbooth. Below is an extract with Mastroianni during the screening of the film at Cannes in 1978.
Pusher I, II & III (1996, 2004, 2005)
We are in Copenhagen. Here’s the story: the first Pusher in 1996 was also the first film made by its director, Nicolas Winding Refn, now praised for his recent hit, Drive starring Ryan Gosling. In the tradition of films that cost nothing but deliver much, the Pusher of ‘96 and the woes of a Danish dealer experienced a decent amount of international triumph, giving Refn the success he needed to begin his Hollywood career. But he was dogged by failure across the Atlantic, so he returned to his homeland shortly after bringing the world of Pusher back with him, adding to it 2004 and 2005, making two sequels that enabled him to replenish the cash drawer. Seen in the order of release, it is likely that you will prefer each chapter to the last, generally seen as more intimate and more Shakespearean than the first. But if you consider all three next to each other, which I did when I watched them, the Pusher I of ‘96 keeps an intact vitality and comes across brilliantly in this expression of cinéma vérité, falling somewhere between Von Trier’s Dogme and Sorcese’s Mean Streets. This is a must-see, Drive commands it.
Home alone I (1990)
We are in Chicago. And if this comes as a surprising choice to you, too bad, because it is an undeniably great film…The most enormous public success to come from John Hughes was, at the time, perceived as a serious artistic regression sold to the big studios after the existential-teen film summit of the Breakfast Club. A bit like if we considered that in lowering the age of his hero by a good ten years, from the teenage Molly Ringwald to an 8 year old Macaulay Culkin and all that is more innocent, John Hughes also lowered the intelligence of his movies. A fatal error. Home Alone is a perfect film that brings the theme of familial hatred and trauma back to his work – Home Alone dives into a Tex Averyien frenzy of sadistic tricks’n’threads, full of snot and hatred executed on the poor spineless and cartoonlike victims – Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are martyred as the Coyotes after a Road Runner tornado. All built, designed, and filmed as an Americana classic, and better yet, a Christmas classic. A genuine film, yes. If the sequence made in 92 is not bad, the next two are disastrous, and none of them compare to the original. Treat yourself and forget about being a snob.