b]1. L'humanité (1999, Bruno Dumont)[/b]
Sharply ugly humanity, coupled with mild dark humour, L'humanité showcases a Dumont with a clear idea of what he wants to do, and a surprisingly refined style. Capturing life in a quaint little village, and following the life of a childlike superindentant and his friends, as they hang out in a mixture of fun and sad, lost tragedy, the film moves in crassly subtle ways. The film is set to the backdrop of the rape and murder of a 13 year old girl, a detail the film seems to largely ignore, but in a way stays with us throughout.
Stretching approximately 150 minutes, the film takes it's time, sets a clear atmosphere, and let's us explore the characters, setting and underlying emotions very carefully. Dumont plays with off moments, sensuality, sexuality and subverts expectation well (similar to the more recent auteur Alain Guiraudie). His key strength is the way he manages to very beautifully compose direct ugliness, make us uncomfortable, and in a way that could be reminiscent of a far more cinematically accomplished Larry Clark (or a far more subtle Korine), utilize the sleazier, crasser, childish and immature to create something truly interesting. 8/10.
Dumont was never a director I focused heavily on, and I am yet to see The Life of Jesus, but now I am certainly interested. I think I was originally put off, to an extent, by Twentynine Palms, which was the first film of his I saw, and which I had mixed feelings about. However, I quite enjoyed is quaint and actuallyt very similar (if slightly more "clean") mini-series P'tit Quinquin, and Camille Claudel 1915 was a brilliant exercise in minimalism (but very different from the other 3 I have seen).
2. Le printemps / Spring (1972, Marcel Hanoun)
Beautiful and quiet, with long takes capturing the emergence of spring, while cutting together the life of a young girl, and that of a potential killer on the run, Le Printemps is quite the triumph for Hanoun. There is no shallow sexuality, or rough attempted experiments. What we see here is the work of a careful and experienced director carefully drawing out his vision.
I was taken aback by just how beautifully crafted the long takes were. The colour is simply perfect - and this might actually be the first time I have seen Hanoun really sink his teeth into colour. It still uses a plot device, i.e. the killer, to tap into a quick sense of instant atmosphere and melancholy (just as he used beauty in Summer and sexual tension in Autumn) but it feels neither cheap, nor exploitative. Of the three seasons I have seen so far I feel this is the only one that truly taps into the power of it's season as well - and it definitely makes me very excited to explore the last part of the conceptual quadrilogy, Winter. 8/10.
3. Quatorze Juillet / Bastille Day (1933, René Clair)
Surprisingly overlooked in Clair's ouvre, Bastille Day shows a director in his prime, capturing the streets of Paris, playful sensuality and a young romance. What is interesting here is that Clair goes far deeper into amorality that he tended to, and though he maintains his light comedic touch amf wonderful charm throughout, the themes can actually remind us a lot of a proto-noir, with our romantic lead truly falling from grace. The light play thoughout is lovely, the crimal element is slight (but light), and the film is of course beautifully shot/composed, with the same level of masterful elegance as we should always expect from Clair in the 30s. 8/10
Clair is a very interesting director for me, as I have explored him quite decently, 16 films seen so far, and splitting him into 4 periods there are 2 periods I love and 2 periods I find sadly just competent and decent in the good enough, but nothing to write home about fashion.
His 20s period, is just that to me. Very light (with the exception of his rough and mad early shorts), and without the incredible charm and prowess he would come to display. There were still legions of moments of brilliance throughout, but I never came to love any of them. Often they are just light melodramas, playing on light comedy and just not doing enough out of themselves.
His French 30s period on the other hand was spectacular. As soon as the introduction of sound came, he mastered it, and somehow this was when he truly created a consistent and masterful visual style, and a unique voice. Few directors were likely as interesting as him durin the early to mid 30s.
His English language years on the other hand gave of a far more watered down Clair, one with odd plots and often a lot less style. It simply felt a lot like the work of a solid studio director, though he did climb back up towards the end, and I Married a Witch and Then There Were None were still quite accomplished.
However, as soon as he was back to France his original style picked up essentially just were he left off - granted, with less focus on streets and full communities, they were charming, elegant, playful and teasing. It is a very odd career in this respect.
4. Pattes blanches / White Shanks (1949, Jean Grémillon)
There is no doubt Grémillon was one of the most creative, bold and sensual directors of the 40s, and though White Shanks might be slightly in danger of being a little light and perhaps even slightly exploitative, he still creates a dreamlike vision out of it that elevates each individual part. I was taken a little aback by just how sexual it was, and li's light humour, couples with underlying tragedy and sadness worked beautifully. Not among his most visually stunning, but well done in every regard, with an intriguing character gallery, and some surprising twists. 8/10.
White Shanks spoilers:
I was especially surprised by the structure of the characters, with the two top billed cast members, who also served as our introduction to the story, both dying with 10 minutes left of the screentime, and the main antogonist simply disappearing with no consequences or conclusion.