Yves Montand

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Z Review


Weak
When one thinks of political assassinations, a couple of guys driving by a raconteur standing amidst a crowd then hitting him over the head with a pipe before driving away doesn't exactly leap to mind.

And yet Costa-Gravas had the presence of mind to turn the tepid story of thinly-veiled police corruption in 1963 Greece into Z, and somehow the world bought into it.

Continue reading: Z Review

Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

Continue reading: Jean de Florette Review

Manon of the Spring Review


Excellent
In the sequel to Jean de Florette, we find the tables turned on Ugolin and Papet as young Manon (now played by the lovely Emmanuelle Béart) has grown up, though she's slightly deranged and lives in the hills as a vagabond shepherdess. (Of course, she's a vagabond shepherdess that is very attentive to shaving her body hair and studiously applying makeup.)

Manon carries with her the knowledge that Ugolin and Papet indirectly killed her father by sealing off his spring, so when she discovers the mountainous source of the spring -- and the water for the nearby town -- she returns the favor in kind. Alas, poor Ugolin finds himself falling in love with the wispy wanderer, leaving him dying both from thirst and a broken heart.

Continue reading: Manon of the Spring Review

Grand Prix Review


Excellent
Sorry, NASCAR fans. Grand Prix isn't your usual chips-hot-dogs-beer-and-babes trip to the speedway.

John Frankenheimer crafts a surprisingly rich and interesting movie that's set during the rise of auto racing. Not only does it capture the spectacle of these tiny little open-air cars hurtling around European village streets (no ovals here), it also builds an interesting story of rivalries, friendly and otherwise.

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The Wages of Fear Review


Essential
"The best thriller ever made" is perhaps too much praise for the movie, while "best examination of the human condition" is too faint to be heard. Nevertheless, one can safely say that Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear is to film of the nail-biter variety what Raymond Chandler is to detective fiction: pretty damn essential. For pure thriller mechanics, it's a textbook in step-by-step screw-tightening, while those looking for something of more substance will find themselves swimming in the stuff.

The South American village of Las Piedras is located just past the edge of nowhere, baking in the sun and providing just the correctly seedy backdrop for a number of Europeans to wallow in their own misery, abusing the locals, and lazing about the saloon, to the pained chagrin of its hapless owner. There's no work, the road doesn't go anywhere, and a plane ticket out it too expensive. It's the kind of place where dead-enders show up after getting kicked out of the Last Chance Saloon, a hole to crawl in to die. The most dashing of the dead-enders is Frenchman Mario (Yves Montand), a dashing and immoral louse who sponges off his hardworking roommate, acts abusively towards his erstwhile girlfriend, the barmaid Linda (played with va-va-voom naïveté by the director's wife Vera Clouzot) and looks cooler than Humphrey Bogart through all of it.

Continue reading: The Wages of Fear Review

Manon of the Spring Review


Excellent
In the sequel to Jean de Florette, we find the tables turned on Ugolin and Papet as young Manon (now played by the lovely Emmanuelle Béart) has grown up, though she's slightly deranged and lives in the hills as a vagabond shepherdess. (Of course, she's a vagabond shepherdess that is very attentive to shaving her body hair and studiously applying makeup.)

Manon carries with her the knowledge that Ugolin and Papet indirectly killed her father by sealing off his spring, so when she discovers the mountainous source of the spring -- and the water for the nearby town -- she returns the favor in kind. Alas, poor Ugolin finds himself falling in love with the wispy wanderer, leaving him dying both from thirst and a broken heart.

Continue reading: Manon of the Spring Review

Jean de Florette Review


Extraordinary
Very French, very melancholy, Jean de Florette tells the first half of the classic tale of the hunchback Jean (Depardieu), a city-dwelling tax collector who inherits a small farm in rural France. Unhappy that their attempt to buy the place failed (after killing the former owner, even!), Cesar and Ugolin (Montand and Auteuil) scheme to drive Jean away, primarily through plugging up the natural spring on the land, leaving it dry as Oklahoma. But when the poor Ugolin and Jean become friends, the deception turns out to be bittersweet.

Extremely well-made, Jean de Florette is director Claude Berri's finest work, a touching tale that is simple and succinct while not devolving into a confusing and minimalist mess. Depardieu and Auteuil are at their height as actors, and Berri's widescreen panoramas of the beautiful -- yet unforgiving -- French countryside are unforgettable.

Continue reading: Jean de Florette Review

Z Review


Weak
When one thinks of political assassinations, a couple of guys driving by a raconteur standing amidst a crowd then hitting him over the head with a pipe before driving away doesn't exactly leap to mind.

And yet Costa-Gravas had the presence of mind to turn the tepid story of thinly-veiled police corruption in 1963 Greece into Z, and somehow the world bought into it.

Continue reading: Z Review

Le Cercle Rouge Review


Extraordinary
Movies about heists are gimmick-driven things, which is why so few are worth remembering. They live and breathe on some corny and forced plot twist at the end -- "The crook is really a cop!" "The cop is really a crook!" -- because the rest of the movie is usually obvious and boilerplate. There are standard-issue shots of men in masks breaking into the bank/mansion/store, led by some crusty old expert who's famous for his heists, though not so famous that the cops have caught on, but he's having second thoughts about being in the business, and so on. You don't even have to see The Score to know how it goes, and Heist is David Mamet's dullest film - so dull it didn't even try to come up with an interesting title.

So, fair warning: Jean-Pierre Melville's 1970 Le Cercle Rouge (in re-release by Rialto Pictures with a blessing by John Woo) is just a heist film. It has all the familiar elements detailed above. Why, then, is it a masterpiece?

Continue reading: Le Cercle Rouge Review

Let's Make Love Review


Weak
Old Marilyn Monroe farce, with ultra-rich Yves Montand coming from France to Broadway in order to see the rehearsal of a new play satirizing his life. Only he sees the inimitable Monroe on the stage and decides to roll with it, taking the role of himself in the play in order to get closer to the girl.

Yeah, only in the movies.

Continue reading: Let's Make Love Review

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever Review


OK
Suffering through 129 minutes of Barbra Streisand's absurdly over-the-top performance in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever almost makes you forget the borderline ingenuity of the plot and the subtle smoothness of Yves Montand and Jack Nicholson, who all but steal the show from the in-your-face Babs. (Montand is a hypnotist who falls in love with one of Streisand's past lives -- if that makes any sense at all.) This was Vincente Minnelli's second-to-last film, hardly the highlight of his storied career.

Tout va Bien Review


Grim
Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin were interested in leftist, specifically Maoist, political theory at the time they filmed Tout va Bien (which translates to All's Well, a possibly ambivalent reference to activists being marched away by police at the end of the film). The film starts off amusingly, narrated by two voices (presumably supposed to be the filmmakers) who want to make a "political" film but don't seem to have any particular ideas in mind -- except that for monetary reasons the film needs to have "stars." So Yves Montand and Jane Fonda are injected into the story (dream casting, since both were stars who were also leftists). Montand plays Jacques, a former filmmaker who now shoots slick commercials to pay the bills; Fonda is Suzanne, an unsuccessful journalist.

All too quickly, though, the film goes straight into politics, as Jacques and Suzanne go to interview the manager of a sausage plant and are locked in with him by activists who call a strike. Here the film gets very talky, but also credibly presents the activists' concerns as they wonder what settlement the union will seek with the management. There are some effective sequences in which the strikers complain to Suzanne about working conditions in the plant, and Godard's technical skill (and interesting use of a cutaway set of the factory) makes even this preachy part watchable for a while.

Continue reading: Tout va Bien Review

Yves Montand

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