Journey to Italy (1954)

Journey to Italy 1954

Alex and Katharine Joyce (George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman) have been married for several years, but their marriage isn’t necessarily a happy one. There’s no romance in their relationship and when they think about it, they don’t really know each other at all. When they make a trip to Naples together to sell a villa that belonged to Alex’s late uncle, the drive is the longest time they’ve spent alone together in their marriage.

Once they arrive in Naples, it becomes clear just how unhappy and distant they are with each other. Katharine prefers to take day long trips to museums and taking in the historic locations while Alex prefers to spend his time in Capri flirting with other women. All of the images of death Katharine sees really resonate with her and all the pregnant women she sees around town make her long for a child of her own. Eventually, Alex and Katharine reach a breaking point and decide to divorce. But is it really too late for them?

Journey to Italy is a movie that’s best to actually watch and experience than it is to write about or read about. It’s a beautiful, haunting film with exquisite performances by Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders. They were absolutely believable as a terribly unhappy, distant couple. It’s all beautifully filmed and very nuanced; very intimate. It’s one of those types of movies that might not seem like it’s going anywhere, which can be frustrating for many people, but it all absolutely does lead somewhere.

La Notte (1961)

La Notte

When writer Giovanni Pontano (Marcello Matroianni) and his wife Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) go to the hospital to visit their terminally ill friend Tommaso Garani (Bernhard Wicki), the experience effects them each in different ways. While Giovanni is largely unbothered by seeing his friend in such a state, he’s more bothered by the strange woman he encounters in the hallway who tries to seduce him. As for Lidia, seeing her friend in so much pain is too much for her to stand. As they drive home, Giovanni is unconcerned with how upset his wife is and she’s unconcerned about the incident with the woman in the hallway.

Later while Giovanni is at a party for his new book, Lidia goes off by herself to visit the neighborhood they lived in as newlyweds. Giovanni and Lidia have been married for ten years any love they once had has long since gone. As they continue their night by going to a nightclub and a party, the emptiness of their marriage becomes more and more apparent. During the party, Giovanni spends his time pursing Valentina (Monica Vitti). Lidia takes a moment to call the hospital to check on Tommaso, only to find out he had just died ten minutes earlier. Now even more despondent, she starts spending time with Roberto (Giorgio Negro). Neither of their pursuits works out and when Giovanni and Lidia leave the party together the next morning, they are left to face just how empty their marriage is. When Lidia reads aloud an old love letter Giovanni had written to her, he doesn’t even realize that he had written it.

La Notte is a prime example of 1960s Italian filmmaking. But that being said, it’s a style of film that simply not everyone will enjoy. I liked La Notte, which is a pleasant surprise since Antonioni has generally been kind of hit-or-miss with me. The overall moodiness and sense of emptiness really grabbed me. It’s hard for movies to convey a sense of emptiness without actually feeling empty. So many movies have tried to do that and failed miserably, but that’s exactly what La Notte does perfectly. I almost wish I hadn’t chosen this movie to write about during one of my post-a-day events because I can’t really give it the proper analysis it deserves.

Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

Mississippi Mermaid Poster

After communicating with Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve) through a personal ad, tobacco plantation owner Louis Mahé (Jean-Paul Belmondo) decides to bring her to his home on the island of Réunion so they can be married.  When she arrives, Louis is surprised to find Julie looks nothing like the picture she sent.  She explains that she sent her sister’s picture to him so she would know if he really loved her.  Louis hasn’t been entirely honest, either. He only told Julie he worked at a cigarette factory, not that he owned a tobacco plantation.

Louis and Julie are married right away and Louis couldn’t be happier with his new wife.  He wastes no time giving her access to things like his bank account.  Things suddenly get more complicated when Louis gets a letter from Julie’s sister asking where Julie is.  She hasn’t heard from Julie in a long time, which is very unusual for Julie.  Louis calls Julie and tells her to write her sister immediately, but by the time Louis comes home that night, Julie is gone and so is most of his money.

Not long after Julie vanishes, Julie’s sister comes to Réunion looking for her.  After meeting Louis, they realize the woman Louis married wasn’t the woman he had been writing to and they talk to a private investigator about finding the impostor.  While the investigator gets to work, Louis heads to Nice for a trip, but winds up hospitalized for exhaustion.  While recovering, he sees a commercial for a nightclub on TV and spots Julie dancing in it.  He finds out where she lives and goes to her apartment, planning to kill her.  But when the time comes, Julie tells him she doesn’t care if she lives or dies.

Julie comes clean about who she is and where she came from.  Her real name is Marion Vergano and she had spent years going in and out of reform schools.  She had fallen in love with a gangster named Richard and while they were on the same boat as the real Julie, they threw her overboard when they learned she suspected she was about to marry a rich man.  Richard sent Marion ahead to pose as Julie so she could rob Louis.  Marion swears that she really loves Louis but was forced into taking the money and Louis forgives her.

Marion and Louis hit the road and spend their days basking in each other’s company.  They get a house together, but when the investigator Louis hired figures out what Marion had done to the real Julie, he comes to arrest her.  Desperate to protect Marion, Louis shoots the investigator and buries him in the cellar, forcing Marion and Louis to live on the run, straining their relationship.

Mississippi Mermaid definitely isn’t the finest movie I’ve seen by Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Belmondo, or director Francois Truffaut, but it is still a pretty engrossing movie.  The story held my attention through most of the movie, although I was starting to get a little bit tired of it near the end.  I really liked the first part of the movie leading up to Julie/Marion leaving Louis and taking his money and I started off liking the stuff about Louis finding Marion and the two of them trying to carry on their relationship afterward, but that part of the movie just went on for a little too long.  Deneuve and Belmondo were both great in it, though, and the chemistry between them was enough to make me want to keep watching even if I did lose interest in the story.

Drunken Angel (1948)

Doctor Sanada (Takashi Shimura) spends his life dealing with the consequences of a toxic environment.  The area he lives and works in is a dirty slum, full of germs and disease.  Not only that, there’s also the influence of the Yakuza for him to contend with.  He drinks a lot, but he does genuinely care about his patients and does the best he can do to help everybody.  One night, gangster Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) comes to Sanada seeking treatment after being shot in the hand in a fight with a rival gangster.

It turns out Matsunaga also has tuberculosis, which Sanada believes could be successfully treated if he quits smoking and drinking.  At first, Matsunaga wants no part of it and thinks Sanada is lying, but Sanada sees something in Matsunaga that makes him really want to save him.  Eventually, Matsuanaga sees that Sanada is right and tries to clean up his act.  He tries very hard at first, but then Okada (Reisaburo Yamamoto), Matsunaga’s former gang leader, gets out of prison.  Okada sets out to get back to his old life and that includes boozing it up with Matsunaga.

Naturally, Matsunaga’s health starts to decline again.  It also soon becomes clear to him that Okada is only using him to regain his power.  Sanada still believes he can save Matsunaga and orders him to bed rest, but Matsunaga is determined to confront Okada if it’s the last thing he does.

As I said in my “What’s on TCM: August 2012” post, Toshiro Mifune day was one of the days I was most looking forward to because I have seen very few Akira Kurosawa films.  Drunken Angel certainly piqued my interest in seeing more of his movies.  It offers a very raw and gritty look at post-World War II Japan, but it’s beautifully shot and has a lot of heart and a sense of hope.  This movie came fairly early in Kurosawa’s career and you can absolutely tell that he was on the way to becoming a truly great filmmaker.

Drunken Angel is very significant for being the first of sixteen collaborations between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.  I was quite surprised to realize that this was only Mifune’s fourth film, because based on his performance, you’d think he’d been acting for years.  In fact, the character of Matsunaga was originally written as a supporting character, but Kurosawa was so impressed with Mifune that the part was re-written to be much more significant.  Mifune had absolutely no problems keeping up with the much more experienced Takashi Shimura, who was also excellent in it.

Even though I’m still pretty new to Kurosawa, I can safely say that Drunken Angel is no Rashomon or Yojimbo, but it’s absolutely worth seeing.  It’s very interesting to see the beginning of such a legendary collaboration.

Le Jour se Leve (1939)

For Francois (Jean Gabin), the day started out like just another day, but that all changes when he gets a visit from Valentin (Jules Berry).  The two of them get into a fight, Francois shoots Valentin and Valentin collapses on the stairs outside of Francois’ apartment.  A crowd gathers outside, police surround the building, and Francois holes himself up in his apartment.  The police begin shooting at him, but he dodges all their bullets and starts looking back at how he got himself in this position.

He thinks back to one day when he was working in a factory when a woman named Francoise (Jacqueline Laurent) drops by to deliver some flowers.  He starts talking to her and the two of them really hit it off.  They start seeing each other and about a month later, he’s madly in love with her.  But then one night, she says she can’t see him because she’s meeting someone else that night.  Curious, Francois follows her to a club where she watches Valentin, an animal trainer, perform.  Francoise is clearly happy to see him and while Francois is hiding in the back by the bar, he is approached by Clara (Arletty).  Clara had been Valenitn’s assistant and had dated him, but has had enough of being jerked around by Valentin.

Even though Francois and Clara start having an affair and Francoise and Valentin are still seeing each other, Francois still sees Francoise and loves her.  One day, Valentin comes to see Francois and tells him that he’s not interested in Francoise romantically, he’s really her father and he had abandoned her twenty years earlier and left her in an orphanage.  When Francois tells her about this, she tells him it isn’t true.  By now, Francois has all the proof he needs of just how big of a manipulative jerk Valentin is.  One evening, Valentin comes by Francois’ apartment to confront him and the two of them get into a vicious argument.  After Francois dangles Valentin out of a window, Valentin pulls a gun out of his pocket.  But then Francois takes the gun from him and shoots him.  Valentin stumbles out of his room as we saw at the beginning of the film.

I’m very glad that I recorded Le Jour se Leve because this is a movie I’m going to want to watch again.  First of all, Jean Gabin was amazing in it.  Even though this was made a few years before the golden age of film noir, the subject matter and the use of flashbacks made it very film noir-esque.  It’s got some wonderful camera work and cinematography, the final shot of the movie is particularly haunting.  This movie was remade by RKO in 1947 as The Long Night starring Henry Fonda, Ann Dvorak, Vincent Price, and Barbara Bel Geddes.  RKO had wanted to have all copies of Le Jour se Leve destroyed, but thankfully they did not succeed in that because they would have destroyed one of the finest French films of all time.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) and Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) are in the middle of a sordid affair.  The only thing standing in the way of them being together is Simon Carala, Florence’s husband and Julien’s boss.  As is the case in so many movies, they hatch a scheme to kill the husband and run off together.  And as is always the case, they think they’ve covered themselves in every way.  Julien goes into Simon’s office unnoticed, shoots him, makes it look like a suicide, escapes out the window using a rope, and goes straight to his car.  But once he gets to his car, he realizes he left behind one vital clue — the rope.  So he goes back to get it, but he leaves his car keys in the ignition.

What Julien doesn’t realize is that as he was getting ready to leave, flower shop sales girl Veronique (Yori Bertin) and her delinquent boyfriend Louis (Georges Poujouly) were admiring his car from a distance.  When he left, Louis couldn’t resist taking a closer look.  Then he couldn’t resist jumping in and taking a little ride with Veronique.  But nobody realizes the car has been stolen because the elevator Julien is in breaks down and he gets stuck.  As Louis and Veronique leave town, they pass the cafe where Julien was supposed to pick Florence up.  When Florence sees Julien’s car drive by with another woman in the passenger seat, she assumes that he’s leaving town with another woman and is devastated and spends the night wandering the streets of the city.

Louis and Veronique drive off to a motel where they check in as Mr. and Mrs. Julien Tavernier and spend the evening relaxing with a couple visiting from Germany.  The German couple also arrived in a pretty swanky car and after they go to bed, Louis decides to try to steal their car too.  When Louis’ attempts get the owner out of bed, Louis pulls out Julien’s gun, which had been left in his car, and shoots him and his wife.  They hurry back to Veronique’s apartment where they try to overdose on sleeping pills.  Meanwhile, when the police find Julien’s car and gun at the scene of the crime, of course the police start searching for him and Julien manages to escape from the elevator just in time for his picture to hit the morning papers.  He is quickly arrested and because the police don’t buy his elevator story, is charged with killing the German couple.  However, Florence does buy his story and sets out to put the record straight.  The police also found her husband’s body but suspected nothing, so if she could clear him of killing the Germans, he’d be free to be with her again.  Veronique and Louis survive their suicide attempt and Florence confronts them.  But after Florence leaves, they realize they left behind one clue at the motel that would undeniably tie them to the murders and Louis races back to the motel to retrieve it before it’s too late.

I loved every minute of Elevator to the Gallows.  Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and truly taut and suspenseful.  Very classic example of late 1950s French filmmaking.  And with a runtime of 88 minutes, I’m sure even people who don’t usually have the patience for foreign movies could handle this.  Do not let an aversion to subtitles turn you away from this one because you will be missing out big time.  Hands down, one of the best crime films I’ve ever seen.

L’Avventura (1960)

Quick plot summary:  Anna (Lea Massari) goes on a yachting trip with her best friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) and her fiance Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti).  At one point, they get out and spend an afternoon on a virtually deserted island.  After they take a nap, they wake up to find Anna has vanished without a trace.  When a thorough search of the island and the surrounding area fails to find her, Claudia and Sandro embark on their own search for her.  In the process, they fall in love with each other and put their missing friend on the back burner.

I’m not going to lie, this was one of the most excruciatingly boring movies I have ever seen.  I was really excited to see L’Avventura because the plot sounded pretty intriguing, but I ended up spending most of the movie fighting to stay awake.  I simply did not care at all about the relationship between Claudia and Sandro.  When a woman mysteriously vanishes while on a trip, that’s the story I’m interested in.  All I got out of this movie is that Anna had a lousy best friend and fiance since they were clearly more interested in themselves than their friend.  Wherever Anna went, I sure hope she met some better people there.  The most infuriating part about this movie is that it went on for just under two and a half hours.  Two and a half hours and we don’t even find out what happened to Anna!  I apologize if I ruined the ending for you, but I feel obligated to spare you from sitting through a whole lot of nothing happening.  Maybe I would have been more forgiving about this movie if it were, say, an hour and a half long instead.  I don’t mind experimental films, but two and a half hours?  Really?!  The one thing I did like about it is that it had some beautiful cinematography.

The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) and Solange Garnier (Francoise Dorleac) are twin sisters from Rochefort.  Each of them has a creative passion; Delphine wants to be a dancer and Solange wants to be a music composer, but both of them teach classes to pay their bills.  When they get fed up with teaching, they decide to head for Paris, where they are sure they will find happiness.  But Delphine and Solange aren’t the only ones in town longing for something.  Their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux) runs a snack bar and spends her days yearning for her ex-fiance Simon Dame.  She loved him, but thought his last name was ridiculous, so she had left him ten years earlier.  While working at her snack bar, she meets Maxence, a young sailor on leave from the Navy desperately seeking the girl of his dreams.  Maxence knows exactly how his dream girl is supposed to look, he’s just trying to find her.  He paints a picture of this mystery girl and hangs it in a gallery owned by Guillaume, Delphine’s boyfriend.  When Delphine drops by the gallery, she sees the painting and realizes it looks exactly like her, and goes on a quest to find the person who painted the picture.  Yvonne knows Maxence, but she never saw the painting of his dream girl.

Meanwhile, Solange stops by a music store to pick up some new paper and meets Simon Dame.  He tells her how he came to town to look for a woman who left him ten years ago because of his name, but he never met Yvonne’s twins, so Solange doesn’t know that the woman he’s looking for is her mother.  As they get to talking, he agrees to write a letter to a composer friend of his in Paris, Andy Miller (Gene Kelly) so he’d be willing to meet with her.  But little does Solange know that Andy Miller is already in town and she even literally bumps into him in the street.  When they meet, she drops the music she’s been working on and she accidentally leaves part of it behind, which Andy picks up.  He’s fascinated by the song and wants to meet the girl who wrote it again.

But to complicate things more, a carnival is in town for the weekend and the girls meet Etienne and Bill, who work for the carnival.  When two dancers with the carnival run off to be with some sailors at the last minute, Etienne and Bill recruit Solange and Delphine to perform in the show in their place.  They agree and are a great success, but still want to leave for Paris.  Come Monday, they’re all set to go, but then all the missed connections finally start to come together.  Solange and Andy meet up again, Yvonne and Mr. Dame are finally reunited, and even though Delphine hitches a ride with the Etienne and Bill to Paris, little does she know that her mystery admirer Maxence also catches a ride out of town with the carnival.

The Young Girls of Rochefort was a rather interesting movie.  It was kind of like On The Town meets Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with just a hint of Casablanca thrown in.  Only instead of everybody coming to Rick’s, everybody, except for Simon Dame, comes to Yvonne’s snack bar.  I was mostly intrigued by this movie because it had both Gene Kelly and Catherine Deneuve in it.  I didn’t really know what to expect from it, but what I got was a bright, colorful, exuberant, musical.  It was a lot of fun, but could have stood to be a little bit shorter.  I have to say, I’m really glad that Jacques Demy didn’t go with his original choice of Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot as the two sisters.  I like Audrey and I like Brigitte, but that would have been the least believable casting of sisters of all time.  Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac, on the other hand, actually were sisters, so Demy made a far better choice.  But if you’re not into movies that are pretty cheesy and full of random people dancing in the streets, I’d recommend skipping this one because I can easily see how this would grate on your nerves.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad is a very unique movie.  In it, a man meets a woman while staying at a luxurious hotel and is convinced that he met her last year, that they had an affair, and that she was waiting to meet him again at the hotel.  Only problem is that she says she has never met him before.  The whole movie is about the man trying to convince her that they really did meet last year and fell in love.

I thought this movie was quite fascinating, I have never seen anything quite like it before.  The whole movie is like a strange dream, it’s all very surreal.  It has a very non-linear structure, there are a lot of flashbacks to what the man claims happened last year.  The viewer is left to try to distinguish what was true from what wasn’t.  Its atmosphere was brilliant, full of incredible shots, beautiful cinematography, and haunting  music.  Although I thought it was very interesting, I can easily understand how someone else might find it frustrating for the exact same reasons I liked it.  If you want to see Last Year at Marienbad for yourself, I suggest not going into it for the plot because that isn’t what important.  Instead, just go into it for the atmosphere.  It’s a movie that was meant to be an experience, so just sit back and try to get lost in this completely surreal world.

A Woman is a Woman (1961)

A Woman is a Woman has a pretty straightforward premise: Woman wants to have a baby, her boyfriend doesn’t, conflict ensues.  Anna Karina plays Angela, a stripper who desperately wants to have a baby.  Angela lives with her boyfriend Emile (Jean-Claude Brialy), but he is in no hurry to get married or have a baby.  Of course, the couple bickers and they argue back and forth in their preferred method of using book titles.  Angela threatens to have a baby with the first man to come along.  When she threatens to go to Emile’s best friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who has a thing for Angela, Emile calls her bluff and invites Alfred over himself.  Angela and Emile’s fight becomes even more heated and the next day, Alfred declares his love for Angela.  But Angela hopes to work things out with Emile and Emile is left to decide whether or not he wants to marry Angela.

I’ve been trying to watch more Jean-Luc Godard movies lately.  So far, I have only seen three: Breathless (which I liked), Contempt (which I hated), and now A Woman is a Woman (which I really liked).  The plot for A Woman is a Woman doesn’t really sound like it’d make a great comedy, but Godard totally pulled it off here.  This is a completely different side of Godard from what I’d seen before, it’s so playful.  I particularly loved the part where Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character makes a joke about Breathless being on TV tonight.  It’s wonderful enough as it is to have a joke about Breathless in a Jean-Luc Godard movie, but it’s just genius when the joke is delivered by Michel Poiccard himself, Jean-Paul Belmondo.  And I loved the cameo from Jeanne Moreau and how Alfred asked her how Jules and Jim is coming along.  Gotta love French New Wave humor.  The performances were great, I loved the direction, the use of vibrant colors was fantastic, there simply isn’t anything I didn’t like about this movie.

Unfortunately, the Criterion Collection DVD of this movie has gone out of print, but it if you have Netflix, it is still available to watch instantly through there.  It’s only 85 minutes long, so if you want something fun to watch but doesn’t require a big time commitment (which is precisely what I was looking for when I decided to watch it), this is a great choice.