Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE LAST METRO (François Truffaut, 1980, France)

SPINE# 462
A Jewish playwright is forced to hide in the dank underground of his own theatre. He directs his play listening to echoes and whispered secrets as his wife drifts farther away into her double life. Director François Truffaut creates a play within a play within a film and a love triangle that reflects this deep masquerade as the characters must act out their parts to survive, losing themselves in the brutal nexus of fiction and reality.

During the Nazi occupation of Paris, Daxiat an Anti-Semitic critic vomits his propaganda through the media and attempts to gain control of the Montmartre Theatre and its beautiful owner, the gentile wife of the “missing” playwright. The gorgeous Catherine Deneuve imbues Marion Steiner with a fiery inner strength and charm, an independent woman torn between her husband and the new actor Bernard Granger (a rock-solid performance by Gerard Depardieu). Granger is a member of the Resistance and uses his talent to secret information and contraband to his cohorts, his egotistic facade hiding his true political motivations. But soon Bernard can no longer hide his anger at the inane verbiage spouted by Daxiat and his actions threaten the company and his own life by revealing his true colors: blue, white, and red. Lucas directs the play through a proxy and the play THE VANISHING LADY is a huge success…but the two leads begin to love and despise one another.

Truffaut is concerned with the faces hidden under the makeup and shadowed by stage light, and seeks to uncover the hidden agendas and aspirations of human nature, using the play set amidst our violent history as a metaphor concerning the value of art imitating life. His characters all hide behind some barrier: a dank cement wall, the social graces of high society, or the idol banter of male egotism. THE LAST METRO is filmed in glorious saturated colors, giving the film itself a stage-like atmosphere, which further confuses the senses. As the film ends and reconciliations are made, Truffaut cuts to life as an act, seeking truth through the paradigm of Art.

Final Grade: (B+)

Blu-ray (1 disc); DVD (2 disc)
  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Two audio commentaries: one featuring Annette Insdorf, author of François Truffaut, and one with actor Gérard Depardieu, historian Jean-Pierre Azéma, and Truffaut biographer Serge Toubiana
  • Deleted scene
  • French television excerpts of interviews with Truffaut, and actors Catherine Deneuve, Depardieu, and Jean Poiret
  • New video interviews with actresses Andréa Ferréol, Sabine Haudepin, and Paulette Dubost, assistant director Alain Tasma, and camera assistants Florent Bazin and Tessa Racine
  • A video interview with the celebrated cinematographer Nestor Almendros, detailing his collaborations with Truffaut
  • Une histoire d’eau, Truffaut’s 1958 short film co-directed by Jean-Luc Godard
  • Theatrical trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Armond White

Saturday, July 26, 2014

WISE BLOOD (John Huston, 1979, USA)

SPINE# 470
Hazel Motes is a speck in a cosmic storm, his blood a fury of existential angst that thrusts him deeper into an emotional abyss, lost in the vacuum of nihilism, a victim of religion. Hazel returns from the savage Vietnam War, discarding his Purple Heart, discouraged and alone after haunting his broken home. His fire and brimstone past has tainted his blood, flashbacks to his Grandfather’s zealous Christian condemnations reverberate throughout his psyche, regressing to the little boy who pissed himself in fear of hellfire.

Director John Huston blasts religiosity back to the dark ages: from the opening credit sequences in stark black & white, where faith is relegated to uneducated childish scrawls to the fraudulent preachers who dominate the cityscape of modernity. Into this morass wanders Hazel screeching his new “religion”, the church of Christ Without Christ, an ironic and militantly satirical worldview that would make even Kurt Vonnegut proud! The narrative subtext seems to indicate that Hazel was a devout Christian but the horrors of war (and life) have changed him, have opened his mind towards a greater understanding…but he’s caught in a self-destructive web of anger and resentment towards society. He caustically disregards Enoch, a young worshiper who wants nothing more than to be friends. Enoch’s comic obsessions with primates and a mummified corpse seem superficial and narratively irrelevant, but could be read as a religious metaphor concerning Homo Sapiens’s superiority over our common ancestors…an evolutionary fact that the villainous faithful deny. Enoch descends into mankind’s primitive past (he actually dresses as an ape) while Hazel is juxtaposed as the empty future of his morally bankrupt philosophy.

John Huston doesn’t shy away from the racist authority that permeates Macon, GA and this gritty unrelenting drama plays as both satire and tragedy. Brad Dourif’s performance is vehemently empathetic as a young man who needs guidance, not from an imaginary savior but from a real flesh and blood person. His final penance is only self-perpetuating, he’s lost the ability to care, and becomes an echo in the void.

Final Grade: (B+)

DVD Only ( 1 disc)
•New, restored high-definition digital transfer
•New interviews with actor Brad Dourif, writer Benedict Fitzgerald, and writer-producer Michael Fitzgerald
•Rare archival audio recording of author Flannery O’Connor reading her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
•A 28-minute episode of the television program Creativity with Bill Moyers from 1982, featuring John Huston discussing his life and work
•Theatrical trailer
•PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by author Francine Prose