Les Quatre Cents Coups (dir. Truffaut)
This superb coming of age movie has long been a firm favourite of mine and I enjoyed rediscovering it on Prime. The grainy black and white film captures Paris as I first knew it, grubby and run down but still magnificent. You can almost smell Disque Bleu and bread and coffee in the city’s streets.
Antoine Doinel is a thirteen year old boy who is oppressed by his feckless and inconsistent mother and stepfather and by his pedantic and vindictive schoolmaster. He is aided and abetted in his truancy by his copain, René. They get up to a great deal of mischief including the farcical theft of a typewriter from Antoine’s father’s office. They fail to dispose of it through a fence who tries to cheat them. Antoine is caught trying to return it and is handed over to the police. Eventually, he is sent to a reformatory and escapes during a football match.
Given the subject matter of an adolescent going off the rails, the film should be grim, but it is far from that. Antoine’s patience, resourcefulness and finally his breakout are engaging and finally exhilarating and we are onside from early on. All the acting is pitch perfect, though Jean-Pierre Léaud, as Antoine is terrific. I would defy you not to want to rescue him.
However, it is the direction which lifts the film into greatness: every frame is a delight. Special moments include Antoine’s antics behind the blackboard near the beginning; his contortions on the Rotor, the centrifugal fairground ride, where he is pinned to the wall as the floor sinks away; the way the boys peel off on a PT run through the streets; an éclat of pigeons accompanying the boys’ sense of freedom while bunking off; the small children’s excitement during the puppet show in the public gardens – and so much more. The long tracking shots towards the end as Antoine is running are emotionally powerful as is the freeze frame when he reaches the sea and turns to look straight into the camera.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream BBC4 dir. Russell T. Davies.
Now if you thought I might come over all purist about this I would have to disappoint you. I found it absolutely joyous. There were tremendous liberties taken. The biggest is the depiction of Theseus as a totalitarian tyrant who keeps Hippolyita in (literal) bondage throughout the play until she is released by [spoiler alert] Titania. But within its own terms, it works particularly well. Lysander and Demetrius do not usually fall for each other in 3.ii but what the hell, the love juice wreaks havoc anyway, so why not? The cutting of the text is adroit – one can rarely see the join – and the reallocation of lines is often illuminating. The casting is brilliant and the colour casting, if I can call it that, is perfect fitted to the contrasts in the play. The CGI is stunning and again, why not? One quibble is that Thisbe’s death was played, as seems to be the fashion, for pathos, neglecting the comedy of the words. I think you can have both. The dance at the end – though hardly a Bergomasque – was rapturous
fun. Puck’s epilogue makes a cunning apology for all the liberties taken and I was happy to give him my hands.
An intellectually challenging take on the future of AI with a gripping development including some genuine surprises. Visually compelling. But in the end, I didn’t buy it. The film tried very hard to deal with the issue of sexuality but, in my view, resorted to some soft porny scenes and dodged the issue. If the first fully independent, intellectually superior robot with an artificial intelligence capable of reproducing itself with an accelerating capacity to evolve turns out to be female, well, no skin off my nose. But if she wore white high heels and a white brocade dress, I would have to wonder what it was evolving towards and in what direction.
Occupied (2019) Amazon Prime – don’t confuse with Norwegian TV Series.
Amazing gem. Can’t find out anything about it online. Set in a village in Nazi occupied Russia. Superbly shot, brilliantly acted.
Bicycle Thieves [dir. Di Sicca]
Heartbreaking masterpiece set in postwar Rome. Antonio [Lamberto Maggiorani] is dependent on his bicycle for his job as a bill poster. Work is almost impossible to come by so when it is stolen it is a devastating blow. The film is an odyssey which takes us all over the city in search of the stolen bike. Antonio is accompanied in his search by his 8 year old son, Bruno [Enzio Staiola] whose loyalty to his father is both engaging and poignant. In the end, Antonio is faced with a moral dilemma. Should he steal a bicycle in his turn so that his family can eat?
Superbly shot. The city is realised keenly and some of the cinematography is almost documentary in style. The image of little Bruno trotting by his daddy and trying to keep up, looking up at him and almost stumbling will haunt you.