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Archive for September 14th, 2011

by Allan Fish

(France 1931 82m) DVD1

The golden ticket

p  Frank Clifford  d/w  René Clair  musical comedy  Georges Berr, M.Guillemaud  ph  Georges Périnal, Georges Raulet  ed  René le Hanaff  m  Georges Van Parys, Armand Bernard, Philippe Parès  ly  René Clair  art  Lazare Meerson

Annabella (Beatrice), René Lefèvre (Michel), Paul Olivier (Père Tulip Crochard), Louis Allibert (Prosper), Vanda Gréville (Vanda), Constantin Stroesco (Sopranelli), Odette Talazac (La Chanteuse), Raymond Cordy (taxi driver),

No, chocaholics, no Willy Wonka here, but the ticket in question is no less golden for that.  Indeed, 1931 was a golden year, un année d’or, for René Clair.  Following on the back of his Sous les Toits de Paris in 1930, Clair released his two greatest films in 1931; later the groundbreaking À Nous la Liberté, but firstly this delicious fantasy.  Though À Nous is probably the more influential film in terms of its cine-politics and comedy heritage, Le Million was far from being uninfluential itself (as well as being a homage to Boris Barnet’s silent, The Girl With the Hatbox).

            In an escalating series of catastrophes, we follow a young artist who, besieged by creditors and needing money to marry his beloved, finds that he was won the Dutch lottery with the magical 28,009 ticket.  However, while he’s downstairs receiving the joyous news, his beloved is upstairs being interrupted by a thief on the run from the police who both takes refuge in her room and takes a seemingly worthless old jacket with him.  Of course, it turns out to be the very jacket in which her beloved’s winning ticket was kept, so he ends up chasing round Paris trying to catch the man who took it, but he has since sold it on to an opera singer, who he has also robbed of an expensive watch…

            And so it goes on, with one obstacle put in the hero’s way after another, negotiating them like a hurdler on speed, intoxicated with anxiety, right up until the memorable finale with the jacket passed back and forth while a rugby commentary plays in the background, surely one of the greatest uses of sound in early talkie cinema.  (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

This article was first planned as bringing out a duet between Eclipse (L’Eclisse) (1962) and Avanti! (1972). For years, I have been convinced that the former is Antonioni’s best film, and yet could never satisfactorily comprehend the reason for my feeling that way. The overlooked ingredient has, I think, to do with its concentration upon the fecundity of the Italian setting, perhaps a strange entry for a work about relentless desolation. That would bring it forward to chord with (show its having in play telling phenomena with regard to) Billy Wilder’s seldom seen comedy, Avanti! While it may be even harder to account for preferring this forgotten creature over Wilder’s roster of brilliant hits, it is, above all else a film capture of the zest of the Italian setting, and as such forms a workable link with Antonioni’s poem of obliteration in the Eternal City.

However, the essential and tenaciously hidden element of comedy as inhering in the deadly dynamics may be too complex and remote for comprehensible contexture regarding a compound comprising painful struggle that is no laughing matter. With respect to that opacity, a more promising approach might be to run the findings in presentations that alternate between doom and delight, while keeping to the fore their startlingly close proximity. So here we have Eclisse, and next we’ll have Avanti!

“Vittoria” (played by an actress, Monica Vitti, who fabulously combines registers of earthiness and delicacy) takes some baby steps toward an affair with “Piero.” He takes her to his family redoubt in the center of Rome, where he maintains a room when not at his pied à terre, and, in the course of sizing each other up, she plants a passionate kiss on one side of a glass panel, and he meets her lips with his, from the other side of the glass. Then he embraces her full-scale body, tearing one of the shoulder straps of her dress. Before this skirmish peters out –her attempt at regrouping behind a locked door followed by his coming through another doorway, taking her by surprise and amusing her in the bargain—they repeat that amorous usage of windowpanes, but in this second run-through it is apparent she is now simply posturing, an episode lending more weight to an imperative stoking the first instance. Early in that jockeying, he fetches a box of chocolates, offers her one, only to find the box is empty. She laughs and tells him, “That’ll teach you to treat me like a visitor.” She imagines him using such a gambit with call girls. He claims that his work as a stock broker places him in the call girl role, but insists that, “If you get involved [in that career] you become passionate about it.” She’s drawn to reflect, “Two people shouldn’t know each other very well if they want to fall in love.” (more…)

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