Jean-claude Carriere

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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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Certified Copy [copie Conforme] Review


Excellent
Like Before Sunrise, this film follows two people as they roam through a setting that's foreign to both of them. But since this is an Italian-French film by an Iranian filmmaker, it's also oddly playful and provocative.

In Tuscany, author James Miller (Shimell) finds that his latest book, Certified Copy, is more acclaimed in Italy than back home in England. A fan, Elle (Binoche), buys the book to her friends while her son (Moore) teases her that she's in love with the author. In her shop full of antiques (and copies), she meets James and the two head off for a day of visiting museums and roaming through an Italian village. And as they talk, they invent their own history as a couple.

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Danton Review


Excellent
Long before we arrive at the time and place where Andrzej Wajda's captivating Danton takes place, democracy itself had failed. Has it gotten better since the days of guillotines and powdered wigs? The answer is muddled, but behind it all still lurks the fear of that blade, its finality and the power that gives whoever holds the rope from which it hangs.

Georges Danton, the titular Parisian political firebrand who was put under the blade in April 1794, is played here by the incomparable Gérard Depardieu, and it may very well be one of the mighty, imposing actor's best performances. Danton returns to Paris to decry the Reign of Terror that, under the hand of the Revolution, had claimed countless lives and allowed the Committees to continue to do what they want without bowing to scrutiny or criticism. Instead, rather quickly, the one-time revolutionist was jailed along with several other politicians and accused of trying to bring down the Revolution.

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The Milky Way Review


Good
Approaching a film like Luis Buñuel's The Milky Way isn't a cut-and-dry affair. Part of you wants to look at it in the pantheon of Buñuel's oeuvre, citing his patented sense of sarcasm, skepticism, and wit. Another idea is to tackle it as a singular film, discuss its theories, its themes and characters, and the director's "point." Another dead end: Way has an episodic surrealism that makes clearly describing it somewhat in the vein of teaching a humpback whale how to solve a Rubik's cube. My editor told me the best way might be to just babble incoherently. [You're doing fine at that so far! -Ed.]

There are only two consistent elements in Buñuel's film: Its mocking of Catholicism and the two bums making a pilgrimage to the altar of St. James. Outside of these elements, there are high-flying moments that disregard time altogether. You'd call it goofy, but it's so well-crafted that you just hold on for dear life through all the outright daffiness that pours out of Buñuel's imagery.

Continue reading: The Milky Way Review

The Milky Way Review


Good
Approaching a film like Luis Buñuel's The Milky Way isn't a cut-and-dry affair. Part of you wants to look at it in the pantheon of Buñuel's oeuvre, citing his patented sense of sarcasm, skepticism, and wit. Another idea is to tackle it as a singular film, discuss its theories, its themes and characters, and the director's "point." Another dead end: Way has an episodic surrealism that makes clearly describing it somewhat in the vein of teaching a humpback whale how to solve a Rubik's cube. My editor told me the best way might be to just babble incoherently. [You're doing fine at that so far! -Ed.]

There are only two consistent elements in Buñuel's film: Its mocking of Catholicism and the two bums making a pilgrimage to the altar of St. James. Outside of these elements, there are high-flying moments that disregard time altogether. You'd call it goofy, but it's so well-crafted that you just hold on for dear life through all the outright daffiness that pours out of Buñuel's imagery.

Continue reading: The Milky Way Review

Goya's Ghosts Review


Terrible
There are always clear-cut signs: a solid cast with no buzz, a good director but no release date, a topical film with a PR campaign that could best be described as non-existent. To say nothing of the fact that the first it was heard of was roughly a year ago, Milos Forman's Goya's Ghosts has its ineffectiveness in the bloodstream and appears to have been released solely on name cred.

Forman, the Czech madman, began his career with sublime studies in New Wave dynamics, most memorably with 1965's Loves of a Blonde and 1967's sublime The Fireman's Ball. Now, after Cuckoo's Nest, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and that ridiculous role in Keeping the Faith, Forman seems to have jettisoned over to the other side of the spectrum. While most of Forman's American fare at the very least holds the faintest whiff of provocation, Goya's Ghosts seems shackled to a supremely-uninteresting story without even a glimmer of spontaneity. Seriously, hasn't it already been proven that all art is inspired by women and all women are evil? Isn't it time to move on? Not according to Forman.

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Belle De Jour Review


Extraordinary
Martin Scorsese has done us all a great service by reviving the little-seen classic, Belle De Jour, Luis Buñuel darkly comic and disturbing 1967 tale of Séverine (Catherine Deneuve), a woman who lives a double life. By evening she is the steadfast, almost-frigid wife of a famed French doctor (Jean Sorel). By day, she is "Belle de Jour" -- her new "stage name" at an exclusive Parisian brothel.

Buñuel weaves masterfully through scenes of Séverine's hum-drum existence with her cold husband, her surreal day job as a wanton prostitute, flashbacks to her childhood, and bizarre daydreams of her humiliation, bondage, rape, and torture. Deneuve is exquisite, playing one of the most difficult roles imaginable with her characteristic grace. I find it incredible that this film has gone unnoticed for so long.

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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

Belle De Jour Review


Extraordinary
Martin Scorsese has done us all a great service by reviving the little-seen classic, Belle De Jour, Luis Buñuel darkly comic and disturbing 1967 tale of Séverine (Catherine Deneuve), a woman who lives a double life. By evening she is the steadfast, almost-frigid wife of a famed French doctor (Jean Sorel). By day, she is "Belle de Jour"--her new "stage name" at an exclusive Parisian brothel.

Buñuel weaves masterfully through scenes of Séverine's hum-drum existence with her cold husband, her surreal day job as a wanton prostitute, flashbacks to her childhood, and bizarre daydreams of her humiliation, bondage, rape, and torture. Deneuve is exquisite, playing one of the most difficult roles imaginable with her characteristic grace. I find it incredible that this film has gone unnoticed for so long.

Continue reading: Belle De Jour Review

May Fools Review


OK
Louis Malle's farce has a gaggle of Frenchies bickering over an inheritance, all while the 1968 student uprisings are occurring around the oblivious relatives. Occasionally random storytelling gets in the way of an otherwise light and fun film. And who doesn't love that Miou-Miou!?

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The Phantom of Liberty Review


OK
In 1972, when he was in his 80s, director Luis Buñuel released what is very likely his masterpiece, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. The film is a marvel for a lot of reasons, but one of its hallmarks is the constant digressions of its plot; it moves unexpectedly from dream sequence to reality in ever-deepening convolutions, as though Buñuel placed equal weight on our waking and irrational lives. In his next film, 1974's The Phantom of Liberty, he dispensed with plot, as it is traditionally understood, altogether. In this penultimate outing, Buñuel focuses on the role of chance in life, on the free-associative substance of dreams, and on the arbitrariness of social conventions, and he extends that focus to the film's structure itself.

The continuity of The Phantom of Liberty isn't entirely random; the plot moves from one character's set of circumstances to another's, taking the film with it and only rarely returning to previous narrative strands. (Richard Linklater's Slacker is an example of another film - perhaps the only other film - with a vaguely comparable structure.) The Phantom of Liberty begins with the execution of Spanish partisans by Napoleonic troops in Toledo in 1808, an incident memorialized in Goya's famous painting "Third of May." The film, in fact, opens with this image - and it recurs more dependably than any character does - the intended irony being that the partisans were fighting against the greater freedoms that the Napoleonic Code afforded, and thus against liberty. Among the French troops is a captain whom we follow into a cathedral; there he makes sexual advances on the statue of a certain Dona Elvira, whose body rests beneath the cathedral floor, until he is assaulted by the statue of her late husband, which kneels next to hers. To this point the film has been narrated, and here the scene shifts to a nanny in contemporary times who is reading the captain's tale out loud in a park. As she reads, the young girls in her charge are approached by a shifty man who offers to show the girls some photos, warning that no grown-ups are to see them. We then meet the father of one of the girls ("I'm sick of symmetry," he announces while handling a display box containing a giant spider); he and his wife are outraged when shown the photos, and later the man's sleep is haunted by a mailman, who delivers a letter to his bed, and what I took to be an ostrich sauntering casually through the room. The following day this man's doctor explains that he's not interested in his patients' dreams, but the man insists that he wasn't dreaming and offers the letter he received as proof.

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Cyrano De Bergerac Review


Extraordinary
Edmond Rostand's 1898 play Cyrano de Bergerac is a definitive example of European romanticism: the truth is buried, beauty is found to be skin deep and virtue goes unrewarded.

After surviving Steve Martin's 1988 comedic translation, Roxanne, Cyrano has been resurrected for the screen again, this time in its native French. This latest version, is involving and depressing. See it alone, or go with someone you love who can cheer you up afterwards.

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The Tin Drum Review


Extraordinary
The Tin Drum is one of cinema's greatest coming of age stories -- probably because its star, Oskar, never comes of age, literally.

Oskar (David Bennett) is a young lad in 1920s Germany, and at the age of three he realizes that as he gets older, the attention he's given will rapidly wane. He decides to quit growing and hurls himself down the cellar. He achieves his goal. Ten years later, Hitler is on the rise, and Oskar is still romping around with his precious tin drum, physically unchanged since that day but deeply affected by life experience nonetheless.

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Diary Of A Chambermaid Review


Essential
When this movie was over, I felt frustrated, almost disappointed. But the more I thought about Diary of a Chambermaid, the more I came to admire it.

The themes of obsessive desire, inhibitions imposed by society and ridicule of conventional bourgeois values dominate Buñuel's work, and Diary of a Chambermaid is no exception to that. Unlike some of Buñuel's most surrealistic films (L'Age d'Or, Un Chien Andalou, Belle de Jour), Diary is fairly straightforward. No one but Luis Buñuel can combine so brilliantly sexuality, perversity, and humor against the backdrop of fascism's in France in the early 1920s.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Review


Extraordinary
When I first watched The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I was dating a poet who had read and loved the book. Not wanting to involve myself in reading the book at that point, I rented the movie instead. I loved it then and I love it now, but, at this point in time, I can compare it to the novel by Milan Kundera. The two are both vastly similar and vastly different. As an adaptation, it succeeds in transcribing the events of the novel, but does not do as well in successfully demonstrating its points.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being focuses on Tomas (Daniel-Day Lewis), a Don Juanist terrified of commitment and a surgeon at a Prague hospital. He is trapped between his platonic and semi-erotic love of Teresa (Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche), a photographer and his wife and a erotic and semi-platonic love of Sabina (Lena Olin), a painter and his mistress.

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Jean-claude Carriere

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