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The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
Bunuel's marvellously surreal satire pokes lacerating fun at the snobby, unflappable French middle class. Shot like a sitcom, it's a snappy look at the ridiculous inequity of Western society, peeling back the veneer of civilisation in a way that's even more timely now than it was in 1972.

Ambassador Acosta (Rey) and three friends (Frankenur, Seyrig and Ogier) arrive at a country house for dinner, but discover that they're a day early. And rescheduling the meal proves rather complicated, as the men are secretly involved in an illicit drug deal, and hosts Alice and Henri (Audran and Cassel) would rather sneak off for sex. The interruptions to their rescheduled meal become increasingly surreal, including a tea room that runs out of tea, a group of soldiers on manoeuvres and a gang of armed thugs.

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The Duchess of Langeais Review


Excellent
It's no mystery that men and women do unconscionable things in the name of love, but the way French-new-waver Jacques Rivette plays it in his adaptation of Balzac's Don't Touch the Axe, you would think it was an epidemic.

Titled The Duchess of Langeais, Rivette's Restoration anti-romance takes the structure of a courtship between General Montriveau (Guillaume Depardieu), a celebrated war hero, and Antoinette (the astounding Jeanne Balibar), the titular married coquette, in the early 19th-century. At a ball in the upper echelons of French society, Antoinette becomes intrigued by the stoic Montriveau even before she meets him. Despite his lack of game, the general entices the married duchess with stories of his wartime campaigns. A student of Bonaparte, Montriveau becomes infatuated with Antoinette, who, in turn, begins to strategically toy with her soldier-in-waiting.

Continue reading: The Duchess of Langeais Review

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
From the moment his 16-minute Surrealist dirty bomb Un Chien andalou was dropped on an unsuspecting Paris in 1929 until the time of his death in Mexico in 1983, director Luis Buñuel patiently and gleefully held court as cinema's most steadfast, outspoken, and off-handedly inflammatory enemy of "polite" society. He built a career on his contempt for unexamined social mores and the gluttonous, self-righteous civic and religious leaders who perpetuated them, and he wasn't just fooling around. As a representative attack, consider this sequence from his 1930 feature L'Âge d'or: We're informed by intertitle that over the course of a long weekend in a locked mountain chateau, a group of depraved rapists and murderers have been having their way with a bevy of adolescent male and female virgins, whom they then torture and kill. The scene is based on the same Marquis de Sade material that served as the basis for Pier Paolo Pasolini's unconscionable Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, the difference being that here Buñuel has thoughtfully included Jesus Christ among the deviants. He is even seen to drag an injured, escaping girl off screen, the assumption being, when she doesn't return, that He has finished her off. Was Paris burning? No, but once word of L'Âge d'or got around, you may rest assured that some of her theaters were.

Buñuel's cheerful blasphemy was, as you can imagine, shocking, but his commitment to relaying narrative through free-associative, non-linear images - his commitment, that is, to the Surrealist creed that raged among Parisian artists - was seen by many to be as grave an affront. Audiences grew hostile, it seems, when, in Buñuel's films, livestock lounged about in the beds of debutantes or miffed gamekeepers shot and killed children to blow off steam. Buñuel, who was a Spaniard, suffered a more concrete hardship when Fascists took power in Madrid in 1938; he eventually settled in Mexico in 1946, returning to Spain in 1961 where General Franco banned his first new film, Viridiana, just as hurriedly as the jury at Cannes awarded it the Palme d'or. And so Buñuel relocated to France, now in his 60s, and at an age when most directors have retired or have long since begun recycling their own material, he entered one of the most fertile periods enjoyed by any filmmaker anywhere. There are masterpieces scattered among Buñuel's French films like confetti, but in his 1972 comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one of cinema's most brilliant directors made the most brilliant film of his career.

Continue reading: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review

Somewhere in the City Review


Grim
No race is more egomaniacal than the New Yorker, the only group of people who would have the gall to call a film Somewhere in the City and have people assume they could only be talking about New York. It's otherdwelling types that get the last laugh, because this film is one boring dog from start to finish, a self-centered tale about a random assortment of self-absorbed New Yawkers, headlined by the most self-absorbed of them all -- Sandra Bernhard -- and redeemed only by a surprise appearance by one honorable former mayor.

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Maîtresse Review


Weak
Yes, that's a young Gérard Depardieu (27 at the time) in Maîtresse, and that's probably the reason that Barbet Schroeder's scarcely seen but notoriously scandalous film is being released on DVD by masters of fine cinema, The Criterion Collection.

For the uninitiated, and I expect that's most of you, Maîtresse tells us the story of a thief named Olivier who robs the apartment of a mild-mannered woman (Bulle Ogier) he's encountered earlier in the day. Much to his surprise, he discovers a dungeon on her bottom story. Ogier's Ariane is secretly a dominatrix, stomping genitals, stretching guys on the rack, and otherwise abusing her clients into oblivion. This discovery leads to all manner of unexpected hijinks, as Olivier and Ariane begin a torrid affair while he tags along on her jobs, Olivier becomes obsessed with one of Ariane's clients, and a horse is slaughtered on camera; a horsemeat filet is consumed in the following scene. The lattermost among those is only one reason why this film is X-rated.

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Tricheurs Review


Excellent
Gambling and addiction are common -- maybe too common -- themes that appear regularly in the movies. But gambling addiction hasn't ever found much of a thematic foothold, despite some noble failures.

Barbet Schroeder's Tricheurs (aka Cheaters) is an underseen and unappreciated masterwork, writ small and perfectly crafted to devastate. The story follows Elric (Jacques Dutronc), a serial gambler who plies the casinos on the island of Madeira and never seems to win. Rather, it's not that he can't win, it's that he doesn't know when to quit if he does. Elric plays roulette, the game with the worst odds but which carries the highest potential payoff: $35 against a $1 bet. All it takes is a couple of big wins before Elric blows his funds on wild bets and promptly loses it all.

Continue reading: Tricheurs Review

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
From the moment his 16-minute Surrealist dirty bomb Un Chien andalou was dropped on an unsuspecting Paris in 1929 until the time of his death in Mexico in 1983, director Luis Buñuel patiently and gleefully held court as cinema's most steadfast, outspoken, and off-handedly inflammatory enemy of "polite" society. He built a career on his contempt for unexamined social mores and the gluttonous, self-righteous civic and religious leaders who perpetuated them, and he wasn't just fooling around. As a representative attack, consider this sequence from his 1930 feature L'Âge d'or: We're informed by intertitle that over the course of a long weekend in a locked mountain chateau, a group of depraved rapists and murderers have been having their way with a bevy of adolescent male and female virgins, whom they then torture and kill. The scene is based on the same Marquis de Sade material that served as the basis for Pier Paolo Pasolini's unconscionable Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, the difference being that here Buñuel has thoughtfully included Jesus Christ among the deviants. He is even seen to drag an injured, escaping girl off screen, the assumption being, when she doesn't return, that He has finished her off. Was Paris burning? No, but once word of L'Âge d'or got around, you may rest assured that some of her theaters were.

Buñuel's cheerful blasphemy was, as you can imagine, shocking, but his commitment to relaying narrative through free-associative, non-linear images - his commitment, that is, to the Surrealist creed that raged among Parisian artists - was seen by many to be as grave an affront. Audiences grew hostile, it seems, when, in Buñuel's films, livestock lounged about in the beds of debutantes or miffed gamekeepers shot and killed children to blow off steam. Buñuel, who was a Spaniard, suffered a more concrete hardship when Fascists took power in Madrid in 1938; he eventually settled in Mexico in 1946, returning to Spain in 1961 where General Franco banned his first new film, Viridiana, just as hurriedly as the jury at Cannes awarded it the Palme d'or. And so Buñuel relocated to France, now in his 60s, and at an age when most directors have retired or have long since begun recycling their own material, he entered one of the most fertile periods enjoyed by any filmmaker anywhere. There are masterpieces scattered among Buñuel's French films like confetti, but in his 1972 comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one of cinema's most brilliant directors made the most brilliant film of his career.

Continue reading: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review

Venus Beauty Institute Review


Weak
A movie that centers around the workplace can end up feeling like a sitcom. You have a couple of principal characters whose lives are examined, and a small cast of others that are thrown in to add pizazz to the storytelling. This may work in a well-written 22-minute TV show, but in Venus Beauty Institute it results in a film that eventually loses its focus, trying to rely on passion that just ain't that passionate.

Pity poor Angèle (Nathalie Baye). She toils away at the titular French beauty salon during the day, and looks for quick sexual encounters at night. In her 40s, she feels too burned by the loves in her past to get hurt again, and instead finds her happiness in hunting down men with whom to have trysts. Early in the film, she quickly approaches a stranger in a cafeteria, tactlessly luring him away from dinner so they can do it in his car. We get the feeling that she wants more -- a funny opening sequence where she gets dumped helps -- but she's too headstrong for that.

Continue reading: Venus Beauty Institute Review

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