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A Film Diary

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My Blind Spot choice for May was an excellent one, and as I write this a couple of weeks after watching Jacques Demy’s 1964 film The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg for the first time, I feel relatively confident in saying that it is now one of my favourite musicals – a vivid, colourful and bittersweet melodrama containing wonderful performances from Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo and an insistent, memorable score from Michel Legrand. Despite the film’s stellar reputation among amateur and professional critics – not to mention musical aficionados – I had wondered beforehand whether I was going to like the recicative dialogue; it’s not something I tend to enjoy and I thought it might be a stumbling block preventing me from connecting with Demy’s work. However, it’s so well-done here that I stopped noticing the device for a while, and at times it even seemed completely natural that the actors were singing their lines throughout. And bravo to cinematographer Jean Rabier, whose vibrant vision of the French port town makes the bad weather seem oddly warm and appealing. This is a masterpiece. (*****)

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The first of five semi-autobiographical François Truffaut films – also his debut – that star Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, a young Parisian boy whose journey from neglected, mis-treated youth to juvenile petty criminal is profoundly moving and wonderfully acted. The opening sequence sets 1950s Paris up as a kind of playground, and it remains as much for most of the rest of the film, with Henri Decaë’s camera wandering the streets in tandem with the latchkey lead. I first watched Les Quatre Cents Coups (sorry, I’ve always hated the badly-translated and comparatively clumsy English languate title) when I was a teenager, but I identify with and have way more sympathy for Antoine now than I did back then. It’s a film that’s ostensibly about a child, yes, but really Truffaut is holding up a mirror to adults, requesting them to think about their own actions and the society they have created. (*****)

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The narrative in this excellent new film by Katell Quillévéré, written by Quillévéré and Gilles Taurand, drifts from one character to another, all of whom are linked together in some way by a dying patient in a hospital and his heart. You could argue that there are three specific threads: a teenager is left brain-dead after a car accident and his parents must decide whether to donate his valuable organs; the staff at the hospital are tasked with persuading the parents and must successfully transplant, if they are allowed to proceed – an ordinary day’s work, amazingly; and a woman on a waiting list for a new heart remains hopeful despite her faltering condition. Quillévéré never settles on a lead character, following at various times incidental figures as well as those we may see as being conventionally ‘important’, and offering us brief glimpses into all of their lives: time is spent with the boy’s shell-shocked parents, as you would expect, but also with a nurse on her first day in the brain injury ward, the girlfriend of the boy injured in the accident and a couple of people who I assume are medical students, who are tasked with safely transporting organs from Lyon to Paris. The film never has to rely on any strange circumstances or chance encounters to tie all the characters together – instead we see how they all relate to one another and nothing unusual is fabricated in order to link them or bring them into the same space. There are excellent performances and some very persuasive sequences that indicate the strange state that exists between dreams and reality, which are beautifully shot by Tom Harari, and a really lovely soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat that contemplates the images and the delicate nature of the film. All-round excellent performances, too, that ensure Heal The Living is a moving, well-considered, subtle study of life, death, grief and hope. (****½)

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The second collaboration between Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí – who had fallen out with each other by the time of production – is another surreal film, this time a series of vignettes that seem to mock the absurdity of modern life, as it was in France in 1930. The main link throughout is a couple (Lya Lys and Gaston Modot) who are trying to have sex but are constantly thwarted by others, such as religious figures, family members, etc. There are some typically strong images: the woman fellates the toe of a statue, apparently to ease her sexual frustration; a crucifix has scalps hanging from it that blow in the wind; a young boy is shot in a chillingly cold fashion; an old man at the side of the road is needlessly attacked. All very shocking at the time, no doubt, and some of it still surprising to see today. Buñuel’s gift for editing by associating similar objects and shapes or by linking ideas is clear for all to see, and it’s one of the very first sound films made in France, though you wouldn’t describe it as un talkie, exactly. (***)