Friday, April 15, 2016

Nosh 11: 'My Golden Days' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER (review of ‘My Golden Days’)
The word “cinema,” still so resonant in Paris, means very little in American multiplexes. There, Paris is mainly a site for whiz-bang thrillers and soft pleasures like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. A film import like My Golden Days, a compact cinematheque of nostalgia, throbbing with vitality, gets tucked into small theaters, mostly seen by aging fans of a French New Wave far past nouvelle.  

Director and writer Arnauld Desplechin’s new movie overlaps, in the protagonist’s name and the main setting (provincial Roubaix, Desplechin’s  native town), his previous work. In this excitingly complicated carousel of themes and allusions, Desplechin favorite Mathieu Amalric is Paul, a French anthropologist recently back from long residence in Tajikistan. The lonely middle-ager is ambushed by memories of his great, first love of the late ’80s and early ’90s. His inner candle for lovely Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet) flames up again, in flashback. Amalric is stuck doing book-end service, once handsome Quentin Dolmaire takes over as young Paul. He finally gets a scene of angry summation, the last gasp of futile heartbreak.

My Golden Days is about the teen Paul’s driven, awkward obsession with blond, peachy Esther. The sexy actors spin like silk their febrile feelings and vulnerable vanities, the brittle pretensions of bright young provincials who aspire to Paris. Esther reads to Paul in classic Greek. He improvises a blithe valentine of love as they stand in front of a Hubert Robert landscape of Rome. There is also a Greco-Joycean conceit: Paul’s last name is Dedalus. Doing cinematic archeology, with admirable fluency, Desplechin and cinematographer Irina Lubtchansky plunder the old New Wave storehouse of jump cuts, split screens, circular iris shots, solemn narration a la Truffaut, Godardian frissons of playful quotation.

The Hitchcock echoes include a furtive, daring sequence in the Soviet Union, though Paul finding there his Dostoevskian “double” never adds up to more than a quirky riff of irony. More crucial are the roots in Truffaut’s romantic marvel Jules et Jim, although Esther’s decline from witty hauteur, as she becomes a moody love sponge, is hardly up to Jeanne Moreau. Nobody tweets or texts. Being blessedly pre-Web, the lovers write fervent letters almost as if they were back in the 18th century. Their dangerous liaison (Esther’s mother denounces her as a whore, Paul’s jealous pal beats him up) achieves the ache of a love fated for nostalgia, casting more than a few Proustian rays.  

SALAD (A List)
For what it’s worth – a sip of absinthe? – My 12 Favorite French Films:

The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939), Jules et Jim (Francois Truffaut, 1963),  Murmur of the Heart (Louis Malle, 1971), La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1936), The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953), A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956), The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, 1956), Band of Outsiders (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964), L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934), French Can-Can (Jean Renoir, 1955), Le Feu Follet (Louis Malle, 1963) and Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986).
And these, an extra dozen, are each in a class by itself: The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo,  1966), Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946), Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945), Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963), Get Our Your Handkerchiefs (Bertrand Blier, 1978), Le Samourai (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967), Menilmontant (Dmitri Kirsanov, 1924), Mon Oncle d’Amerique (Alain Resnais, 1980), The Passion of Jeanne d’Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928), Napoléon (Abel Gance, 1927), The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls, 1970) and Zazie dans le Métro (Louis Malle, 1960).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Citizen Welles’s most memorable film speech was one that he wrote for his charming scoundrel Harry Lime, in The Third Man: “You know what the fellow said: in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – they produced Michlangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Years later Orson told Peter Bogdanovich that “when the picture came out, the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they’ve never made any cuckoo clocks. They all come from the Schwarzwald in Bavaria.” (From This Is Orson Welles, by Welles and Bogdanovich.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
On the Gray Line tour bus in New York, director Bennett Miller noticed that “the ‘blank stares’ of some tourists showed that they ‘they didn’t see the charismatic soul’ of Tim Levitch. Through 150 hours of footage Levitch stayed brave, depth-charging himself. Here was a traveler who would have gladly joined Carol (Joanne Woodward) on her cruise in The Fugitive Kind to ‘go jukin’ on the Dixie Highway and reveal ‘just how lewd a lewd vagrant can be’ … Levitch could, like Charlie Parker, loose the goose of improvisation and set the wild bird free.” (From the Tim Levitch/The Cruise chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, soon to be published.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

 Timothy Levitch in The Cruise (Artisan Entertainment; director and cinematographer, Bennett Miller)

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

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