Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau

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It's clear from the opening minutes of "Elevator to the Gallows" why this 1957 film -- with it's ahead-of-its-time sense of style, its haunting-yet-cool score improvised by Miles Davis and its ironic, post-modern take on film noir -- became the progenitor of a whole New Wave in French cinema.

The uncomplicated yet ingeniously knotted plot takes a classic noir murder -- a man killing his lover's husband so they can be together -- strips away the genre clichés and infuses the film with the introspective moodiness, dynamic camerawork, unadorned location shots, and stylized but emotionally naked performances that would become a hallmark of the New Wave pictures that followed by Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer and Malle himself.

To put it in backwards-thinking terms, the 24-year-old Malle was the Quentin Tarantino of his day, giving French cinema a creative, instantly influential shot in the arm that spawned imitators and opened new horizons in directorial thinking.

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Time To Leave Review

Leave it to fascinating French writer/director François Ozon to take one of the most tired movie cliches of all time -- "I'm sorry, but you only have a few months to live." -- and turn into to a totally fresh look at what it truly means to live. Time to Leave shows how the final months of handsome 31-year-old gay fashion photographer Romain (Melvil Poupaud) turn out to be both the worst and the best of his life.

Handed his death sentence by his doctor, Romain chooses to let his cancer kill him rather than suffer through the indignities of debilitating treatment that even the doctor admits has only a five percent chance of working. But now what? Romain's first instinct is to push everyone away in order to protect them from the pain of watching him die. Always prickly with his family, who have struggled with his homosexuality, a family dinner he attends turns positively toxic when Romain insults his fragile mother (Marie Rivière) and father (Daniel Duval) and calls his sister (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) a bad mother. When his father drives him home, Romain asks him, "Do I frighten you?" Dad replies, "Yes, sometimes." Through all this, Romain has forgotten to tell them his big news.

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Elevator To The Gallows Review

How Louis Malle got such a wide swath of talent for this first narrative feature I'll never know. But I'm not complaining: Elevator to the Gallows is unlike any film Malle would make in subsequent years: A taut, black and white thriller that speaks to the treachery and hopelessness of mankind, a far cry from his later, optimistic thought pieces.

Gallows gives us a familiar setup: Woman (Jeanne Moreau) wants rich husband dead. Her lover Julien (Maurice Roget), who works for the man, murders him and makes it look like a suicide. But Julien leaves his rope outside his penthouse office window. With all his gear in the car, Julien heads back to retrieve the evidence, but security guards shut off the power in the elevator on the way down. Meanwhile, the car is stolen, the young couple who take it pretend they're Julien and wife, and subsequently kill a pair of German tourists. Julien is unknowingly framed for that crime, all while trying to escape the elevator he's stuck in.

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Beyond The Clouds Review

Michelangelo Antonioni obsesses on the naked bodies of a good half-dozen Euro-stars in this wandering tour of western European sexual relations in various combinations. Based on a collection of his own short stories, Antonioni connects four such tales (infidelity, happenstance, old-fashioned horniness, etc.) with the narrative of a film director (John Malkovich) who's looking for a story to base his next movie on. We find we're lucky enough if we can just get one story out of this two-hour ordeal, which wanders aimlessly in art-house hell as often as it enchants.

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The Last Tycoon Review

The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, packs a pile of talent into its two hours but comes up a bit short in the end.

A shockingly lithe Robert De Niro stars as Monroe Stahr, a 1930s studio executive based on Irving Thalberg (a prolific producer who died at the age of 37, presumably from overwork). Stahr has lost loves in the past and a crushing chip on his shoulder in the present. He's a workhorse, but he wants something more out of life.

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Going Places (1974) Review

Talk about aimless: These two hooligans (Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere) wander across the whole of France, simply looking for trouble. Namely that includes stealing cars and bedding women (usually in a three-way), then running away from whatever trouble they find themselves in -- whether they end up with a gruesome suicide on their hands or nurse from a lactating woman's breast on a train. And oh, it's a comedy. Quite funny, with a strangely perverted sensibility you aren't likely to find in many other films.

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Bay Of Angels Review

Hardly one of Demy's (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) great works, this wisp of a film finds a mild-mannered banker (Claude Mann) becoming obsessed with roulette. (Why is it that all French gambling films revolve around roulette?) Along the way, he also becomes obsessed with an aloof platinum blonde (Jeanne Moreau) who also lives at the roulette wheel. She returns his attentions until revealing that it was all a ruse, brought on simply because she thought he brought her good luck.

A nearly identical story is done a bit more effectively in 1984's Tricheurs, but Jacques Demy's early film has some compelling moments, most notably a sudden and powerful ending that is wholly unexpected but is surprisingly satisfying. Bay of Angels ought to be a film school lesson in how to end a movie.

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Les Liaisons Dangereuses Review

Roger Vadim, who showed a remarkable lack of self-restraint in films like Barbarella and Don Juan (or If Don Juan Were a Woman), was far more muted in his jazz-infused updating of Dangerous Liaisons, set in then-modern-day Paris but keeping the guts of the story nearly intact.

In Vadim's rendition, Valmont (Gérard Philipe) is married to Juliette de Merteuil (Jeanne Moreau), and together they get their kicks by preying on the weaknesses of other high-society types. Juliette sets her sights on Cecile (Jeanne Valérie), soon to be married to someone who has crossed her in the past, and sets Vamont onto turning the innocent (but naive and manipulatable) girl into a sexpot-in-training. Meanwhile, Valmont falls in love with the genuinely virtuous Marianne (Annette Vadim), and a love-quadrangle soons spins out of control.

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Jules Et Jim Review

François Truffaut's romantic classic is a refreshing look at life, love, war, loss, regret... sheesh, what doesn't this movie explore, all under the guise of telling the story of a romanticly entwined threesome before and after World War I.

Jules (Oskar Werner) is Austrian and Jim (Henri Serre) is French. They're best friends, and after their favorite gal, Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), experiences flirtations with both men, she ends up married to Jules. The War comes and goes (they fight on opposite sides), and Jules and Jim rekindle their friendship. Visiting their rural home, though, Jim finds Jules and Catherine's marriage far from idyllic. Before long, Jules is begging Jim to take her -- anything to ensure her happiness.

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Diary Of A Chambermaid Review

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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Map Of The Human Heart Review

I was enchanted with Map of the Human Heart when I first saw it in 1993. Revisiting it today I am less enthralled but still charmed. It's one of those movies that makes you legitimately feel like you've become part of its universe, particularly the scenes in the frigid arctic, which you can almost feel on your skin. A variety of actors play our two leads from childhood to adulthood, as an Eskimo boy and half-Indian girl taunt one another as children, then grow to love each other as adults -- despite the ravages of a raging World War, which makes for a fantastic love story backdrop.

La Notte Review

Antonioni's La Notte tells the story of a couple (Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) who essentially agree they no longer care for each other. Before the titular notte is up, those feelings will change, brought out during an all-night cocktail party and a sudden rainstorm. La Notte is a slow and methodical film, like all of Antonioni's work, but La Notte's wandering first act makes it hard to embrace all-out. A dead-on Mastroianni steals the show from Moreau and Monica Vitti, who catfight for his affections and come off as little more than ambivalent twins.

The Trial Review

Welles' adaptation of Kafka's famous work is one of his most innovative and bizarre, a trip through the surreal that would have done Kafka proud. Anthony Perkins is a solid choice as Josef K., the protagonist who's accused of and tried for a crime -- without ever being told what it is. His journey through the dystopic justice system (though rambling) has as many modern day analogues as ever, and The Trial's stunning visuals ensure you won't be able to look away.

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La Truite Review

There really are fish in La Truite ("the trout"): The film opens as Isabelle Huppert is bored silly squeezing semen out of a fish on the family trout farm. It's an allegory for her own mailaise, and within 20 minutes of screen time, she's abandoned her gay husband and is off to Tokyo with a wealthy businessman.

Ever the free spirit, Huppert's Frédérique has a vague Peter Pan syndrome crossed with exhibitionism. Since her youth (you can tell it's a flashback because she has really long hair), she's made a vow to always woo money out of men by playing neo-whore, but without having sex with them. Heading to Japan with a man (Daniel Olbrychski) she meets in a bowling alley (where else would she encounter him!?) is just this to the nth degree. There she encounters another man's wife (Jeanne Moreau), who tells her about satori, the "world of ecstasy."

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Jeanne Moreau

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