Author Archives: french

LE TROU

The last and perhaps finest film by Jacques Becker, director of the
classics Casque d’Or and Touchez Pas au Grisbi and a mentor and
inspiration to the young directors of the French New Wave, Le Trou
is one of the most thrilling prison break films in history, yet also one
of the least sensational. Based on the true story of a foiled escape,
filmed primarily in La Santé, the Paris prison where the events took
place, and starring a cast of non-actors including one of the original
convicts, Le Trou absorbs by its attention to detail and duration: in
long, carefully composed shots, Becker observes the smashing of
a flagstone or the making of a periscope from everyday jailhouse
objects, involving the viewer in the perilous minutia of the quest for
freedom. The story focuses on four cellmates who are on the verge
of carrying out a long-prepared escape when a young stranger from
a wealthy background is assigned to their cell. The four men must
decide whether to trust the newcomer or put off their getaway. Becker
masterfully builds tension through his sparing, precise mise-en-
scène, delivering a timeless meditation on fellowship and trust…and a
devastating final twist.

DIRECTOR
Jacques Becker

SCREENPLAY
Jacques Becker
José Giovanni
Jean Aurel

CAST
Marc Michel
Raymond Meunier
Jean Keraudy
Michel Constantin

DETAILS
Drama
French
132 min.
France, 1960
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Rialto Pictures

PRICE RANGE
$350 DVD/Blu-Ray
$450 DCP

LE TEMPS RETROUVÉ, D’APRES L’OEUVRE DE MARCEL PROUST / MARCEL PROUST’S TIME REGAINED

It stands to reason that only Raoul Ruiz, a director utterly free from
conventional approaches to representing time and space, could do jus-
tice to Marcel Proust’s monumental In Search of Lost Time. For Ruiz’s
accomplishment in Time Regained is not only to deliver a surprisingly
profound yet accessible digest of Proust’s themes and leading char-
acters, but to create a self-standing, utterly captivating film that adds
an original vision of cinema to Proust’s meditations on the passage of
time, the construction of memory, and the evolution of relationships
and society. Working from the structure of Time Regained, the final
volume of Proust’s opus, Ruiz intertwines and layers different times
to provide a panoramic view of all seven volumes of the novel, driven
by a superb attention to period detail and a stellar, at times surprising
cast (John Malkovich as Charlus!). Naturally, Ruiz is forced to pick
and choose from the profusion of motifs in Proust; his emphasis on
the wartime setting of Time Regained and the history of gay mores
provides fresh insight. For those who have not read the novel, Ruiz’s
epic achievement is an irresistible invitation. For those who have, it is
an opportunity to plunge deeper into Time.

DIRECTOR
Raúl Ruiz

SCREENPLAY
Gilles Taurand
Raúl Ruiz

CAST
Catherine Deneuve
Emmanuelle Béart
Vincent Perez
John Malkovich
Marcello Mazzarella
Chiara Mastroianni

DETAILS
Drama
French
115 min.
France, 2017
DCP, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
KimStim

PRICE RANGE
$300-$500

PETIT A PETIT / LITTLE BY LITTLE

Little by Little picks up the story of the three enterprising migrants
in Jaguar fifteen years after they return home to Niger from the Gold
Coast, finding them the successful owners of an import-export busi-
ness called Petit à Petit. Inspired to build the first residential tower in
Niamey, they decide to send Damouré Zika on a fact-finding mission
to Paris. When Damouré fails to return, Lam follows him to the French
capital—and joins him in living a lavish lifestyle while gaping at the
paradoxes of Western society. Little by Little is a coolly subversive film
disguised as high farce, in which the colonialized turn the tables on
the colonialists, making them into objects of study, desire, largesse,
or ridicule. The sequence featuring Damouré roaming the city streets
asking Parisians whether he can measure their chests or see their
teeth for an ethnological study plays like the riotous revenge for the
decades that white colonialists cast an objectifying gaze on the people
of Africa. Yet while Little by Little’s critique of waning colonialism
and waxing capitalism has deep ideological roots, the film plays as a
free-flowing, warm-hearted comedy, a totally unique experiment in
cross-cultural exchange.

DIRECTOR
Jean Rouch

SCREENPLAY
Jean Rouch

CAST
Damoure Zika
Lam Ibrahim

DETAILS
Documentary, “ethnofiction”
French
96 min.
France, Niger, 1971
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Icarus Films

PRICE RANGE
$200

LA PASSION DE JEANNE D’ARC / THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC

In 1927, Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, the director whom
James Agee would later call “one of the few moralists, and classi-
cists, and incorruptible artists, in movies,” was invited to make a film
in France. He settled on the story of Joan of Arc and spent a year
researching her life, drawing primarily from the transcripts of her
trial. The resulting account of her trial and execution stands as one
of the towering achievements of the silent cinema and has consis-
tently been voted one of the best films of all time. Like all truly great
works of art, The Passion of Joan of Arc is full of paradoxes, yielding
a blend of expressionism and realism that is both deeply mystical and
utterly material, astonishingly abstract and unflinchingly carnal. These
conflicting yet complimentary impulses are the result of Dreyer’s
innovative methods, but perhaps the secret to The Passion’s enduring
place in film culture is the trance-like performance by stage actress
Renée Falconetti as Joan. In some of the most glorious close-ups in
cinema, Falconetti’s wide eyes express all the pain, strength, and in-
extinguishable faith of a woman hounded by a society of men. As such,
her performance continues to speak to our time.

DIRECTOR
Carl Theodor Dreyer

SCREENPLAY
Carl Theodor Dreyer

CAST
Renée Falconetti
Eugène Silvain
Antonin Artaud

DETAILS
Drama
French
81 min.
France, 1928
DCP, Blu-Ray, DVD

DISTRIBUTOR
Janus Films

PRICE RANGE
$200-$300

MOI, UN NOIR / I, A NEGRO

Few films have had as sweeping an impact as Jean Rouch’s 1958
portrait of three Nigerien migrants in Treichville, a bustling neighbor-
hood in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. As an ethnographic film, Moi, un noir was
both politically and aesthetically revolutionary through its attempt to
address the problem of the ethnographer (nearly always a white man)
filming subjects (nearly always people of color) objectified and stripped
of agency by the filmmaking process. Here, Rouch began by film-
ing his friend Oumarou Ganda (later to become a pioneer of African
cinema) and two other young men seeking their fortune in Abidjan,
inviting them to improvise scenes as they worked the docks by day and
dreamed of a better life by night. He then asked Oumarou Ganda to
add his own voiceover commentary to the images of himself and his
friends. And so, the documentary became a shared project, in which
the people on screen actively participated in their representation and
revealed not only the surface of their daily lives, but the stuff of their
dreams. This vibrant, rough-hewn film had a determining influence on
the French New Wave and the cinéma vérité movement of the sixties.
It remains a touchstone for today’s documentary/fiction hybrids.

DIRECTOR
Jean Rouch

SCREENPLAY
Jean Rouch

CAST
Omarou Ganda
Gambi

DETAILS
Documentary, “ethnofiction”
French
74 min.
France, Côte d’Ivoire, 1959
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Icarus Films

PRICE RANGE
$200

MAMMY WATER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rouch’s 1955 documentary short on the “surf boys” of the Fante people on the Gulf of Guinea
offers a fascinating glimpse at the lives of these canoe-borne fishermen and their com-
munities. Attributing a disappointing fishing season and the death of their sea priestess
to the sea’s anger, the fishermen carry out a ritual sacrifice to “Mammy Water,” the spirit
of the Pra River, asking her to bring them the sea’s forgiveness. After the sacrifice, the “surf
boys” head back out into the Gulf for two-day fishing expeditions. While one of Jean Rouch’s
more conventional ethnographic films, Mammy Water is notable for its exquisite photography
and its innovative soundtrack, with Rouch’s own informative voiceover eventually giving
way to wordless direct sound, letting the hypnotic spectacle of the canoes riding the waves
do all the talking.

DIRECTOR
Jean Rouch

SCREENPLAY
Jean Rouch

DETAILS
Documentary
French
19 min.
France, Ghana, 1956
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Icarus Films

PRICE RANGE
$150 (when booked together with LES MAITRES FOUS, $200 for both films)

LES MAITRES FOUS / MAD MASTERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shot in a single day in 1954, this documentary of a possession ritual of the Hauka cult, in which Nigerien migrants outside Accra enter a trance state to imitate the military ceremonies of their British colonial occupiers, proved to be incredibly controversial, offending representatives of the colonial powers who saw their institutions mocked, as well as African intellectuals who believed it furthered racist clichés. Yet this undeniably intense, disturbing film became an instant classic that reached beyond ethnographic circles to influence the cinematic revolutions of the fifties, as well as other arts, inspiring Jean Genet’s play The Blacks and several classic theater productions by Peter Brook. As for Jean Rouch, he considered the film to be an incendiary indictment of those in power, whether white or black, as well as the catalyst for his concept of ciné-transe, in which the camera is recognized as a provocateur, playing its part in causing the trance shared by “actors,” filmmakers, and viewers.

DIRECTOR
Jean Rouch

SCREENPLAY
Jean Rouch

DETAILS
Documentary
French with English subtitles
29 min.
France, Ghana, 1956
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Icarus Films

PRICE RANGE
$150 (when booked together with MAMMY WATER, $200 for both films)

JAGUAR

Jaguar follows the picaresque adventures of Damouré Zika, Lam
Ibrahim Dia, and Illo Gaoudel, three young men from Niger who set off
to find their fortune in the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) in the early
fifties. Two find jobs in Accra, while the third opens a business in the
sprawling market in Kumasi; all three become “jaguars,” gentlemen
bachelors walking the city streets on the lookout for romance. Shot
in 1954, completed in 1967, and technically Jean Rouch’s first feature
film, Jaguar abounds with a youthful energy shared by the film-
maker and his friends in front of the camera. With this exhilarating
experiment, Rouch developed his method of “ethno-fiction,” in which
he collaborated with his subjects to improvise fictional scenes in a
documentary setting and later invited the “actors” to add voiceover
commentary. All three actors have the gift of gab and a high-spirited,
self-mocking sense of humor, which make Jaguar both an exuber-
ant comedy and a whirlwind tour of the life of West African economic
migrants in the fifties. This mosaic of short hand-held shots is also a
bold departure from the standards of ethnographic filmmaking, both
scruffy and stylish, and relentlessly optimistic.

DIRECTOR
Jean Rouch

SCREENPLAY
Jean Rouch

CAST
Lam Ibrahim
Illo Goudel’ize
Damoure Zika

DETAILS
Documentary, “ethnofiction”
French
93 min.
France, Ghana, 1967
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Icarus Films

PRICE RANGE
$200

LA CHINOISE

More than fifty years after it was released into the turmoil of the late
sixties, Jean-Luc Godard’s first foray in his overtly political phase re-
mains as radical in its form as in its contents. Focusing on a group of
young students, artists, and workers who have gathered in an elegant
borrowed apartment in Paris to study Marxism-Leninism and Maoism,
Godard combines the clean lines and primary colors of pop art with
revolutionary discourse to present a typically kaleidoscopic vision
of the political ferment that would lead to the uprisings of May ’68.
Played by actors whose characters reflect their own lives, the young
people in La Chinoise struggle with the schism between the Soviet
Union and communist China and excoriate American imperialism in
Vietnam. The film abounds with innovative visual strategies including
filmed photographs and comic book frames, theatrical skits, and a
proto-video for a pop song about Mao, but its greatest achievement
rests in its dialectic approach, making room for entrenched radicalism
and an embrace of political violence as well as their critiques, which
are no less hopeful but considerably less destructive. It remains a
vital, dazzlingly stylish primer of political engagement before the era
of identity politics.

DIRECTOR
Jean-Luc Godard

SCREENPLAY
Jean-Luc Godard

CAST
Anne Wiazemsky
Jean-Pierre Léaud
Juliet Berto

DETAILS
Drama, Comedy
French
95 min.
France, 1967
DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Kino Lorber EDU

PRICE RANGE
$400

LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE / THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE

One of the liveliest films from French cinema’s abiding master, The
Crime of Monsieur Lange starts with a couple arriving at an inn on the
French border with instructions to escape to Belgium the next morn-
ing. The innkeeper and his clients soon identify the man as the wanted
murderer Monsieur Lange; while he sleeps peacefully, his companion
Valentine throws herself upon their mercy by telling the story of his re-
lationship with their employer Batala, a crooked publisher who abused
his employees and creditors. In a single long flashback, we learn of
Batala’s mysterious disappearance and witness his publishing compa-
ny turn into a thriving cooperative in which every worker has a say. For
a time, a small utopia takes root around the Paris courtyard where the
printing presses run and Lange and Valentine fall in love. Until Batala
reappears… The Crime of Monsieur Lange is Renoir’s inspiring polit-
ical manifesto, a film dedicated to egalitarianism both in its narrative
and its way of taking an affectionate, lingering interest in a wide variety
of characters. It is also a timely look at relations between men and
women, blunt in its outrage over workplace abuses and sophisticated
in its representation of women’s desire.

DIRECTOR
Jean Renoir

SCREENPLAY
Jacques Prévert
Jean Renoir
Jean Castanier

CAST
René Lefèvre
Florelle
Jules Berry

DETAILS
Drama
French
83 min.
France, 1936
DCP, DVD, Blu-Ray

DISTRIBUTOR
Rialto Pictures

PRICE RANGE
$350 DVD/Blu-Ray
$450 DCP