At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
The Alliance Française is currently featuring the work of Alain Resnais.
At Alliance Française on Friday, November 20: Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour (1962) by Alain Resnais – 115 mins – France/ Italy, Drama. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 84 out of 100.
With Delphine Seyrig,Jean-Pierre Kérien, Nita Klein.
AlainResnais's third film, like his earlier ones: «Hiroshima Mon Amour» and «Last Year at Marienbad», is devoted to the vagaries of memory. Bernard, a veteran of the French/ Algerian war, was forced to torture and murder Muriel, an Algerian girl accused of sabotage. He is no more successful at recapturing or altering his past than his stepmother Helene is at reviving a romance with Alphonse...
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: In the haunting drama Muriel, French filmmaker Alain Resnais continues his exploration of and fascination with memory and the impact of past events on people's present lives. Helene is a lonely widow who lives with her stepson, Bernard, in Boulogne. Into their lives walk Alphonse, a lover from her past, and Francoise, who he claims is his niece but is actually his mistress. While Helene and Alphonse are obsessed with their past relationship, Bernard is troubled by his memory of a girl whose brutal death he witnessed while he was fighting in the Algerian War. As in his prior films, Resnais tells the story in a dream-like, stylized fashion.
Jim’s Reviews: In general, the film is about the pull between each character's memory – or more accurately, fantasy – of their past and how it relates to the complex reality of the present. As Alphonse at one point tells Hélène, without understanding the implications, "Every person is a private world." The conflicts, both psychological and moral, come from the gaps in understanding between each character – just as they so often do in our own life experiences. Each character has a different take on what happened, and what it means now emotionally. This, of course, ties them into knots. For some the result is like a sexual farce, but for others the pressure leads to violence. Truffaut offers an interesting perspective on the characters' fatal self-involvement, in his 1975 book The Films in My Life: "Muriel is an archetypically simple film. It is the story of several people who start each sentence with "I...." In Muriel, Resnais treats the same subject that Renoir treated in Rules of the Game and Chabrol in Les Bonnes Femmes: we act out 'Punch and Judy' as we wait to die." One of the reasons that this film is so powerful, and deeply moving, is that ultimately Resnais leaves it up to us to decide what to make of these characters, and the implications of their lives.
If you come to this film after the dazzling temporal displacements of Hiroshima Mon Amour or the metaphysical ambiguities of Last Year at Marienbad, you may be surprised by Muriel's "easy" linear storyline and concrete setting. We are in Boulogne-sur-Mer, in northern France on the English Channel, and it is 1962. The action unfolds precisely between Saturday, September 29 (Act I) and Sunday, October 14 (Act V). In fact, Muriel was filmed just days later, from November 1962 through January 1963, on location in Boulogne and, when interior sets were needed, at Studios Du Mont, Epinay-sur-Seine. In terms of history, the action occurs just six months after the long Algerian War ended through the Évian Accords that gave Algeria independence but France its worst humiliation since the Nazis routed them in one month in 1940. These defeats, although rarely mentioned in the dialogue, form a crucial part of the film's backstory. Acts II and IV each encompass one week, while the pivotal Act III dramatizes two days from the middle of the time span.
Resnais had Cayrol explicitly structure the screenplay into the five unified acts of a traditional play – introduction, rising action, climax, reversal, and resolution (here's an overview of dramatic structure). Although Act I, covering the first day, is disproportionately lengthy at 48 minutes, the compelling story unfolds in a straightforward way. The one major exception is held until the end, when after we see Bernard in his climactic scene, we move back about three minutes to watch Hélène – at that same time – visiting, and reconciling with, two old friends: when she hears something off-screen, she hurries off, returning the film to linear time. Within this classical narrative framework, Resnais and Cayrol interweave multiple storylines that play off against each other both psychologically and thematically. As in most Resnais films, before and since, characters are arranged in interlocking triangles, as we see here in the main groupings of Hélène, de Smoke and Alphonse; Alphonse, Hélène and Françoise; Bernard, Marie-Do, and Robert. The film is also structured around the internal/psychological level: every major character also interacts with their own (false) memory of who they were; when those fantasies push against other character's self-delusions, violence erupts. Unlike Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad, whose narratives frequently double – or triple – back on themselves, Muriel's external plot advances with a clarity in striking contrast to its characters' confusion. But like those other two films, its ending doesn't so much tie up loose ends, although it does make the plot feel whole, as it opens new possibilities for the characters, some likely more knotty than what we've already seen.
[To continue with this fascinating and exhaustive discussion, click here.]
At Alliance Française on Friday, November 27: Stavisky... (1974) by Alain Resnais – 120 mins – France/ Italy, Crime/ Drama. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 83 out of 100.
With Jean-Paul Belmondo, François Périer, Anny Duperey, Michael Lonsdale, Claude Rich, Charles Boyer.
France, July 1933. Leon Trotsky secretly arrives in Cassis. The French government has granted him political asylum. At the same time, Serge Alexandre, a.k.a. Stavisky, is rocking the Parisian political and financial scene with his many dealings squandering millions...
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Director AlainResnais'sStavisky... is a stylized recounting of the life of Alexandre Stavisky, a masterful swindler who sold thousands of worthless bonds, working his way into a massive financial hole and drowning in a riotous political scandal. The film focuses on his heyday, which came in the years just before his arrest and subsequent death in 1934. Surrounded by an aristocratic class of financiers who, like Stavisky, delighted in transferring enormous sums among a multitude of accounts around Europe, he was an expert at moving money. Stavisky inhabited the lavish wooden parlors and grandiose theaters of Paris, the ocean overpasses and casinos of Biarritz, with sexy cars, planes, and women to get him from place to place. The delectably glossy filming of Stavisky..., like its dialogue, is sharp, pointed, tightly framed, and complex. Every scene contains a lingering spatial depth and a feeling of weighted drama, colored by flashbacks and dream sequences that are rendered with fragile grace. All the while, a narrator who watches through binocular lenses follows the subtle subplots of Stavisky's love affairs, sporting affairs, and legal affairs. When Stavisky is arrested in the middle of a dinner party (reminiscent of Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad with red wine spilled dramatically across the white tablecloth and a bejeweled woman in a cocktail dress careening through the air like a wounded bird), the ugly end is near. A thumping musical score from Stephen Sondheim completes this masterwork, sprinkling it with noirish spice.
At Alliance Française on Friday, December 4: Mon oncle d'Amérique / My American Uncle (1980) by Alain Resnais– 125 mins – France, Comedy/ Drama/ Romance. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 81 out of 100.
With Gérard Depardieu, Nicole Garcia, Roger Pierre, Marie Dubois, Nelly Borgeaud, Pierre Arditi.
Three intersecting paths: a journalist, news editor for a radio station, a farmer’s son turned textile factory manager, and a working class girl drawn to the theatre and fashion … all under the scientific gaze of Professor Henri Laborit…
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Alain Resnais' Mon oncle d'Amérique may be the best all-around display of the director's unique narrative and photographic techniques. The film begins with still photographs appearing on the screen as a narrator gives a quick biography of each of the three characters in the movie: Jean, Janine, and René. They are presented first in their childhood: a picture of Jean collecting clams, a picture of Janine reciting poetry to her family, and a picture of René in his farm overalls. Then each character introduces him- or herself in young adulthood, and the film rolls as they take turns narrating their own biographies. From there, with frequent interruptions by Professor Henri Laborit, the psychiatrist who takes over as an external narrator, the film assumes the traditional third-person approach to its three subjects, following them as they marry and separate, have affairs, suffer, rejoice, have children, find success, fail miserably, and eventually meet each other. All the while, the psychiatrist-narrator adds fabulously absurd but simultaneously poignant existential explanations for why these characters do what they do. Mon oncle d'Amérique is a film in which everything has meaning. Every action, every word, each gesture, color, and feeling plays into the explanations of the psychiatrist. Thus, as the narrator explains the story, the same scenes roll several times, adding a touch of good-natured comedy to this sophisticated film.