Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Sparse Story of Men in Prison (rated 4 stars)

by Jacques Becker

Jacques Becker’s final film, Le Trou is a sparse character portrait of men in a French prison who share a cell and plan on escaping. With no music and an understated precision to his direction, we gradually come to know each of the characters and their plan as Becker reveals the information that we need to know. The characters are quite complicated and the film resists the impulse to paint characters as good or bad, but is more concerned with portraying their humanity. The tension builds and we follow along with characters as we wonder if they will be successful. Becker was one of the French directors who preceded the Nouvelle Vague, but was admired by them for his portrayal of complex characters and French society.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Remarkable Look at the Paris Commune

by Peter Watkins

Peter Watkins makes provocative films that fiercely criticize those in power and their institutions. Using documentary techniques along with improvisation and handheld cameras he creates powerful films that somehow transcend the limitations of both drama and documentary to come up with something that adds more to the debate and prompts you to think about and question what you see. In La Commune (Paris, 1871) Watkins uses a cast of a couple hundred people who improvise and reenact within the framework of the events surrounding the Paris Commune in 1851. The anachronistic narrative conceit that frames the story is television news as we see reports broadcast during the events. But the film moves from clever to brilliant as the lines between improvisation and reality are blurred as the crew asks the actors if they would do this now. It becomes at times an amazing look inside French society that shows that maybe things haven’t changed that much. Both historically and technically it’s a remarkable achievement that was spurned by broadcasters and will probably have a much larger audience over time through the DVD release.