1967: Part 1

Belle de Jour. Directed by Luis Buñuel. I’ve heard it said that this is one of Buñuel’s “weirdest” films, but it is far less surreal than the two other Buñuel works that I have seen, the short Land Without Bread (1933) and the feature Viridiana (1961). It’s true that Belle de Jour does deal with dreams, fantasies and memories, but in the context of the film, it’s not all that strange. Maybe that’s because the film is such a visual feast, especially if you’re lucky enough to see it “big,” as they say, like I did at the Museum of Modern Art. (It was my second Catherine Deneuve theater experience in the space of a week; last Tuesday I saw The Young Girls of Rochefort at a different, but also wonderful venue, BAM.) Deneuve’s beauty deserves to be seen in a movie house where her glamour can radiate from the silver screen. Her presence, seemingly icy, reveals depth when you learn more about her character. The transition from wealthy housewife to upscale prostitute is somehow totally believable. Deneuve’s performance is matched by Michel Piccoli as an acquaintance who poses certain threats to her livelihood and marriage, Geneviève Page as the madam who may or may not have eyes for Deneuve, Pierre Clémenti as a sexy but unstable gangster and Marcel Charvey and Georges Marchal as two of Deneuve’s more bizarre clients.

Doctor Dolittle. Directed by Richard Fleischer. This delightful musical has been maligned by some in recent years, which I find rather unfair. (It was also a box office flop, recouping only half of the $18,000,000 budget.) You just have to get into the spirit of the thing! It’s not a goofy kids’ movie; in fact it doesn’t pander to children at all. Dolittle benefits from an intelligent screenplay by Leslie Bricusse (also the film’s composer and songwriter), who adapted the script from Hugh Lofting’s novels, a number of which I read when I was little. Featuring such fun tunes as “My Friend the Doctor,” “Talk to the Animals” (which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song) and the title track, as well as the lovely melodies “Beautiful Things,” “When I Look in Your Eyes” and “I Think I Like You,” there’s no chance that you’ll go wrong with the music here. The cast is equally adept, particularly Rex Harrison as the good doctor, Anthony Newley as cheerful pal Matthew Mugg, William Dix as young apprentice Tommy Stubbins, Samantha Eggar as Harrison’s love interest, Richard Attenborough as an enthusiastic circus ringmaster and Peter Bull as the mean-spirited judge who is Harrison’s foe in town. At two and a half hours, the film may appear overlong, but it is a completely enjoyable journey.

Play Time. Directed by Jacques Tati. Tati’s films are not every moviegoer’s cup of tea, but for those lucky fans, his oeuvre inspires and creates joy. Like all of the French films mentioned in this blog post, Play Time needs to be seen the way it was meant to be viewed: a 70mm film print at a movie theater. (I was fortunate enough to have first seen the film in a screening at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater in January 2009.) The story isn’t exactly action-heavy – you get a sense of the pacing from the opening credits – yet there are always things happening. Each frame is spectacularly composed. The narrative combines ideas about the way technology impinges on society (a theme which is also an important aspect of Tati’s films Mon Oncle and Trafic) and the abilities (or inabilities) of people to connect with each other on personal levels. Tati’s Monsieur Hulot character is his usual bumbling and endearing self as he makes his way through a labyrinthine series of modern Parisian buildings, constantly crossing paths with a pretty American tourist (Barbara Dennek) who is in the city for only one day. Their ephemeral relationship is so sweetly crafted, taking place in large part during a lengthy nighttime scene set in a restaurant. Even after the movie is over, you’ll find yourself smiling at the thought of Tati’s message about the simple pleasures of humanity and kindness. Only a true master could have orchestrated such a cinematic symphony.

Wait Until Dark. Directed by Terence Young. You can boil the plot down to this main idea: Alan Arkin terrorizes a blind Audrey Hepburn while searching for a hidden stash of heroin in her apartment. As unusual as it may sound for an Audrey Hepburn film, Wait Until Dark is a thriller that works surprisingly well and certain choice moments continue to make viewers jump out of their chairs. The suspense really builds in the last twenty or so minutes, so much so that theater owners in 1967 were given special instructions to achieve maximum suspense. Hepburn is impressive in her role, not only because she plays a blind woman but because she’s a regular woman, married to a fairly normal guy (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), instead of her earlier tendencies to play princesses or fashion models or women who are generally dressed in Givenchy no matter what their profession. Hepburn has a minimum of cloying affectations here, allowing her performance to shine. Alan Arkin gives Hepburn a run for her money as the cold-blooded villain who torments her. Richard Crenna and Jack Weston also lend solid support as Arkin’s partners in crime. Remember to watch Wait Until Dark with the lights out and you’ll feel all the scares.

The Young Girls of Rochefort. Directed by Jacques Demy. Demy’s follow-up to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is a candy-colored extravaganza, an homage to the American film musical. Rochefort depicts a cinematic universe where dreams come true, song and dance express all emotions better than mere words and one lucky girl can pirouette into the sunset with Gene Kelly. Real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac play twins living in the title seaside town, girls who daydream of moving to Paris and becoming great artists (of dance and musical composition, respectively). Ghislain Cloquet’s gorgeous cinematography works wonders and Michel Legrand supplies the score and songs, including the charmingly buoyant “Chanson des Jumelles” (“A Pair of Twins”) and the romantic piano concerto that Dorléac’s character composes. Also starring the American dancing legends George Chakiris and Grover Dale (in addition to Gene Kelly’s cameo) as well as the French actors Danielle Darrieux, Michel Piccoli and Jacques Perrin, this is one musical that should not be missed.

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