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Posts Tagged ‘Dean Treadway’

innocents 9

By Dean Treadway

In the realm of horror movies, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is beyond reproach. And we all realize the horror genre is overflowing with creepy kids. But in the realm of movies about children–the subject of this ongoing series–how does this film fare? The answer is complicated, but assured.

In this exquisite adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the images are boldly frightening, sexually suggestive, deceptively lush, and idiosyncratically shot in dreamy black-and-white Cinemascope by Freddie Francis. Deborah Kerr, in her own favorite of her many acclaimed performances, plays a repressed nanny whose new charges–the alternately rambunctious and preternaturally mature orphans Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens–prove to be more than her nerves or her faith can take. Is this secluded mansion she now oversees haunted by the ghosts of two sexually libertine servants? Or is she merely being put through the ringer by a couple of untrustworthy brats?

Even before the credits roll, we hear a thin, girlish voice (meant to recall the young tones of our female ingenue Pamela Franklin, here playing Flora, though it could also be the voice of the deceased governess Miss Jessel). Words are put to a vaguely secluded theme that soon becomes the movie’s niggling, incessant refrain. Written by composer George Auric and lyricist Paul Dehn, it’s a suitably ancient-sounding tune called “O Willow Waly,” and it reeks of a particularly lonely menace as we sit in the dark, waiting for a movie to begin like we’ve never waited for a movie to begin before or since: (more…)

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ponette 2

By Dean Treadway

Many movies in this countdown deal with children confronted with the horrors of humanity–wartime, racism, poverty, crime. Yet, in its own quiet way, Jacques Doillon’s diminutive Ponette is among the most powerful of them all, simply because it gets the details of childhood correct. It also never shirks away from the toughest images of abject grief. One should be warned: it’s pretty nigh impossible not to view this movie through a sheen of constantly falling tears. Victoire Thivisol, in the title role, was only four years old when the film was shot, and this must be regarded as a miracle. It’s tempting to read up on how Doillon actually elicited this highly emotional work from such a young soul, but to do so might spoil our impressions of Thivisol as a performer (she would take the 1996 top prize at the Venice Film Festival–as far as I know, the youngest actor to ever win any sort of major award). And this is deserved: by any measure, her Ponette is unforgettable.

The film is exceedingly, wonderfully simple. With a tiny cast on her forearm, Ponette is the survivor of a car crash that took her mother’s life. As the film begins, her father (Xavier Beauvois) is comforting her in her hospital bed, and getting ready to drive her back to a boarding school. He expresses anger at his deceased wife–one senses that their relationship was on the skids anyway–while Ponette is still unable to accept that her mother is gone forever. As a parting show of love, she gives her daddy her teddy bear to keep, and he gives her his watch, which she sweetly keeps on her wrist throughout the picture. Doillon then follows this girl, with his camera wisely never lifting above her eyeline, as she struggles to come to terms with her loss.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once broke down the approach of death into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. One can see each of these stages illustrated here in Ponette’s journey, too, never with a heavy hand and in very much the same order. Some of the film’s most fascinating scenes have her on the playground with her classmates, navigating this process. The film is filled with talk of God and Jesus, and Heaven–both the adults and the kids indulge in this–and we get the sense that Ponette is alternately comforted, confused and infuriated by some of this stuff (at one point, she chides a teacher for feeding her lies). One bossy girl sends Ponette on a playground obstacle course where the ground is a lava pit of Hell, and where there are only scattered islands of safety to which to jump. Her nominal “boyfriend” Mathias listens as she expresses her mind-twisting sadness, and then he kisses her cheek, comforting her in a scene of such aching intimacy that we’re both amused and relieved when he decides to give her his most prized possession: a Batman toy. “You’re nutty, but nice,” he says. All of this dovetails in a superb scene where Mathias and Carla decide to give Ponette one final test, exiling her to a trash bin for five minutes, to replicate the feeling of death and to strengthen her bravery. Just when we think the film is being unimaginably cruel, her friends find pity for the weeping Ponette and rescue her, excitedly telling her she’s passed muster (and Doillon even finds it possible to wring some laughs from the situation). (more…)

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sundayscybele

By Dean Treadway 

After years of merely seeing the title Sundays and Cybele bandied about, I only recently got the chance to see it courtesy of our heroes at Criterion. I had long had it on my radar, knowing that it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1963. And, then, in 1964, due to arcane Academy rules, it achieved that ancient and odd achievement of being nominated the following for Best Adapted Screenplay (it comes from a novel by Bernard Eschassériaux, who threw in on the screenplay, though he’s uncredited) and also for the legendary Maurice Jarre’s evocative score. When I finally got the chance to see it in 2014, I was seriously blown away by its visual acuity, intense performances and complicated emotions. I could barely comprehend its immense breadth, and immediately wanted to know more about its maker. But here I quickly found myself thwarted. Even in the age of the Internet, there are still artists about whom you can find little. And its director/co-writer Serge Bourguignon is one of them.

So here is what I have learned about him: From 1948-50, he studied at France’s L’Institut Des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques (the IDHEC, translated as the “Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies,” and now known as La Fémis). This is the famed film school that spawned the likes of Alain Resnais, Claire Denis, Volker Schlondorff, Theo Angelopolis, Louie Malle, Costa Gavras, Claude Sautet, Patrice Leconte, Arnaud Desplechin, and Jean-Jacques Annaud, as well as countless other cinematic craftspeople (and I’m forced to say: that’s quite an alumni there). After traveling the world in search of material, he began helming documentary shorts in the late 50s, culminating with his Palme D’or win at Cannes for his short film La Sourire in 1960 (this short is available on the recent Criterion Collection release of Sundays and Cybele, though I must confess, I haven’t yet seen it). (more…)

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