All of my images have been replaced by photobucket’s advertisements for their “pro accounts” which is just a way to encourage me to give them money. I’m a cheapskate, no doubt, so I’ll just be switching to a different host. I fear that if I speed things up then I’ll make use of all the bandwidth that WordPress provides for their image files, but it will have to suffice for now. In the mean time, remember not to hotlink any of the images I’ve uploaded. I think it eats away at the bandwidth Photobucket provides (which is already quite small at 10GB a month) far more quickly than if the images were just viewed from their respective posts. The images should be back by next month, but I just wanted to give a heads up to any curious parties and apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused anyone.
When an artist is referred to as someone who “wears their feelings on their sleeves” it usually means that their work rather overtly manages to express the sentiment that they intended. However, in Pialat’s case (lame symbolism ahead, warning) he doesn’t wear sleeves in the first place. He’s one of the few directors who is able to be completely transparent when it came to his personal life and the cinematic representations he created. This film, only his second full length feature, is perhaps the most obvious example of this quality. Based on his own highly personal novel, Pialat almost effortlessly balances the ever-delicate relationship between reality and fiction.
It’s important to mention that Pialat’s cinema is not balancing said relationship by playing with one’s idea of what constitutes “film world” and “real world” as Godard did countless times in the 60s. He achieves the balance by being completely transparent (this is in danger of becoming a personal buzz word in describing not just this film, but Pialat’s work in general) and achingly personal. I mean achingly in the most literal way. One has to think that if Pialat showed this film (or the book, I suppose) to any of his close friends, that they would feel enormously uncomfortable. No, it’s not like I haven’t seen an “honest” of “piercing” type of movie before, but there’s something in Pialat’s manner of observation that just encourages the audience to cringe.
I haven’t been keeping up the critical re-evaluation of Pialat in English-speaking countries, but I’m hoping people can begin to drop the “French Cassavetes” description as it as uncreative as it is wrong. On what basis was this claim even developed? The camera shakes? The fact that both make relationship movies? Don’t get me wrong, I love Cassavetes, but try comparing stacking A Woman Under the Influence up to this makes Gena Rowlands look like the most ham-fisted performer of all-time. In trying to think of the difference between the two filmmakers (and there definitely is one, by the way) the first thing that comes to mind is charisma. There’s plenty of it in Cassavetes’ work. Rowlands’ aforementioned performance (which I don’t mean to hate on) has the subtlety of a kabuki performance when compared to the performers in Pialat’s film. While Cassavetes’ film has dramatic action that is on par with a fistfight (literally, towards the ends) where as Pialat, though arguably more violent (literally speaking again) has the gentle observation of someone like Ozu or Leigh.
Unlike Ozu or Leigh, though, is Pialat’s trademark cynicism which shines through the character he based on himself, but is flowing throughout the film’s entire running time. It’s cynicism from a cynic who is too apathetic to proclaim himself as being a part of any movement. It’s something that’s evident not only in Pialat’s film but in his often humorous interviews. There’s a constant conflict between sentiments of indifference and sincerity which are not opposites, but just colliding feelings. In this since, it comes as no surprise that the late Manny Farber was such a big fan of Pialat’s work. While they aren’t operating within the same art form, they both beautifully create brevity in a world that requires clarity in both fiction and analysis.
I suppose it is somewhat ironic then that I feel very unsure of where to begin even talking about this movie. It’s heartbreaking, but not that in the way that builds and builds into a poignant climax but instead something that constantly builds and gets more and more upsetting along the way. There’s a line in the film that serves as a perfect symbol for the experience of watching Pialat’s work. Catherine tells Jean that she loves him less than before, and he asks when this happened. She replies, “It just did, bit by bit.” – a perfect description for the film itself. It pokes at your most sensitive area with an iron and pours salt into your wounds, yes even the ones that were masked by Cassavetes and countless others. In other words, this is absolutely a masterpiece.
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I have to preface this review by mentioning that I am a Borzage apologist. He made very few films that I cannot defend and quite frankly, this is not one of them. There’s only a handful that I feel comfortable calling outright masterpieces (Man’s Castle is at least one) but even his minor stuff (such as this film) have a tremendous impact on me. The whole “romantic” angle is probably overplayed by every critical overview of Borzage, but it simply cannot be expressed enough. Simply stated, no one in Hollywood knew how to craft a love story quite like him. Sure, he could be hokey at times, but there is no denying that he matched such moments with ones of pure cinematic bliss.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Borzage film if there wasn’t something of a love story. Joan Bennett assists a dreamy doctor, they hopelessly fall in love, and get married. That alone sounds like the outline for some of Borzage’s best work. But it’s just the first act. From there, Bennett is neglected by her husband because of his business. She grows restless of her husband’s devotion to his profession and in the process, begins to suspect him of infidelity.
Once we get past the initial falling in love phase for the two main characters, Borzage kind of turns his own cinema on its heels. It almost feels like he’s playing off of the criticism that his films are disconnected from reality. This comes crashing down hard on Bennett immediately as she realizes that the love she feels for her husband may be mutual, but it also goes unrequited. The sorrow expressed by a failed relationship (or simply a failing one) is an emotion uncommon for Borzage. His area of expertise is mostly lovers that are divided by some physical, imposing force or at least some tragic character flaw. Here, it’s just an unmitigated failure, though by the ending, Borzage has stretched the story back into his aforementioned area of expertise.
In all honesty, this might sell more as a “pre-code melodrama” than as a young Borzage working out the kinks of his post-silent aesthetics. I might just be too partial towards him to feel like pointing out the flaws, but while I don’t completely love this movie, I have some special admiration for it. Not the same as “respect” so to speak, more of a crush. Fitting, I suppose, considering what Borzage is interested in photographing, but there’s something about nearly all of his work that just manages to get to me in some way. I might not think every film of his is perfection, but there’s something memorable in all of them. In this case, I think I am going to have a hard time forgetting Victor Varconi’s line about love. It is so earnest and sincere, like most things Borzage related.
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Categories : Reviews