Info

Art Opinions

Archive for

Amarcord by Federico Fellini, 1973

Amarcord is a neologism Fellini contrived from, which comes closest to the Emiliano-Romagnolo dialect phrase mi ricordo (I remember). Fellini, a great liar, denied this origin, claiming instead that it was a mysterious, cabalistic word, linked to invention rather than memory. 

Amarcord by Federico Fellini, 1973

Amarcord embodies this equivocation between memory and invention, between a world represented (remembered) and a world created (imagined). 

Amarcord, Fellini, 1973

Amarcord is not memory — or if it is, it is a false memory – not fragments of what once was but fragments of what is imagined to have been…”

Sam Rohdie, from his essay on Fellini’s AMARCORD –

Federico Of The Spirits, 2011

Amarcord, the boat of dreams. Federico Fellini, 1973

Amarcord

Federico Fellini, 1973

Cinematography: Guiseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s AMARCORD, 1973

AMARCORD, 1973

Lust Re-Rememberd by Fellini in AMARCORD, 1973

“You begin to shoot an action, and suddenly you are taken with the shimmering of light on a crystal of glass”

Federico Fellini, 1972

“…Such processes, essentially irrational, unconscious, almost impossible to plan (the vagaries of light, a sudden glimmer of recognition), were for Fellini (impressed by Jungian psychology and  its notion of archetypes) signs of creativity and artistry. They were the I, the Me, of Fellini…”

Sam Rhodie, Federico Of The Spirits, 2011

Federico Fellini’s 1973 cinematic master piece is now available completely restored to its original glory on Blu-Ray and DVD by Criterion. 

At some point in your life, unless you are very young or have lived under a rock, you have probably heard someone say something like this: “I swear! They looked like they had just stepped out of a Fellini movie!”

The characters depicted in Federico Fellini’s films are quite memorable. The most memorable of the Fellini bunch tend to be those characters with the least amount of screen time. Take Eddra Gale as an example. Eddra was cast as La Sarghina in Fellini’s 8 1/2  and the facial exaggerations she makes and movements of her dance on the beach are forever seared into pop culture consciousness.

Eddra Gale as La Saraghina in Fellini’s 8 1/2

Fellini did not cast Eddra Gale for her beauty, grace or talent. He cast her because he found her facial movements fascinating. And, the dance of La Saraghina on the beach is at once erotic, comical, disturbing and oddly beautiful. It is a screen moment that has been admired, copied and haunted millions of viewers.

By the time Federico Fellini’s films moved into the mid-60’s he was losing interest in narrative plot and seemed to be more concerned with the images he captured. One of the challenges facing those new to Fellini in the 21st Century is that nearly all of his films are dubbed. And, they are dubbed badly. Most of these films were made during the time when there was a great curiosity around the idea of International Cinema. European directors were scrambling to cast a Hollywood actor in one of their films. Very often, in fact most often, the American actors did not speak the language used for the movie in which they had been cast. Art House audiences were used to dubbing. However, Fellini appears to have reached a point when the actual sounds of voices and actions no loner mattered to him at all. Fellini was about the images.

Federico Fellini

Many cite that Fellini spoke of an LSD trip he took that forever changed his view of life that changed his films from the “unusual” to the downright “bizarre” but I feel that concept could easily be debated. Fellini grew as an artist. He was literally a clown who found himself a filmmaker. And, he just happened to turn out to be one of the major geniuses of cinema. He was far from Surreal. While his shots might be off-center and strange, his films are very much grounded in both reality and humanity. Fellini created some of the most striking portraits of humanity we are likely to see. And, he made them at a time when realism in movies was very much in its infancy.

Fellini filming. Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark

Even when Fellini took a wrong turn such as with his adaptation of the life of Casanova, the movie stands up for the simple reason that there are so many interesting characters to simply watch. Donald Sutherland was badly cast and even appears confused as he wanders through the sets of Fellini’s Casanova, but you are never bored because there is always an actor who captures your attention. Or, even a character who appears to be looking at you.

Donald Sutherland and A True Character in Fellini’s Casanova, 1976

Fellini’s films are filled with extras. His camera spends a great deal of time showing the audience these other characters. Even as the main character’s mouth moves and some disembodied voice speaks, you often find yourself looking to the left or right or even behind to see the unusual assortment of amusing characters.

Fellini Satyricon, 1969

In 1981 Christian Strich edited and published a book titled Fellini’s Faces. It was published in the US in 1981 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston Owl Books. It is comprised of “Actor Head Shots” which were kept in an “archive” at Fellini’s office in Italy.

From the very beginning of his film career, Fellini was obsessed with finding actors who envisioned those who he felt conveyed what he wanted to convey. By 1967, Fellini was far more concerned with how an actor looked or moved. Most often, this was more important than talent. In an all too brief introduction Fellini wrote for Strich’s book he explains that actors are more like puppets to him than collaborators. He knew what he wanted and the actor was to be manipulated for that purpose.

No matter where Fellini was or what he might be there to do, he was always in casting mode. It reached a point where he would set aside one day a week to simply sit and chat with anyone interested in being in one of his movies. These meetings happened everywhere from Italy to Hollywood to Paris to remote villages in Europe. Fellini enjoyed people and he loved to be around those who were fun or/and interesting.

He would meet with anyone as long as they agreed that he had the right to photograph them. People were encouraged to bring a photo of themselves but he usually always took an additional photograph at the time of the chats.  He met people from all walks of life: professional actors, beggars, prostitutes, strippers, drug dealers, bored housewives, business men and anyone who would just want to talk. It was almost without question that his casting decisions for his extras and many larger roles were based on something about the way the person looked, carried themselves or some unique thing that caught his eye or intellect. And, sometimes it might just boil down to the fact that he liked a person’s choice of hat or glasses. The book notes that he sometimes only photographed the hat or the glasses.

Fellini Satyricon, 1969

Quite often he would cast someone simply because he enjoyed his/her company. If he met someone who made him laugh, he might cast that person on this fact alone.

After these meetings, Fellini would have his photographs developed and create a file consisting of the photograph(s), the individual’s contact information and any notes or illustrations he might have made during the meeting. He then gave the files to his assistants who placed them in an organized Face Archive. These archive became quite huge over time. Consisting of over a thousand files, Fellini would consult his archive as ideas, concepts or plots for films came into his mind.

Christian Strich was allowed access to the Fellini Face Archive and chose 400 to put in the book. Please note that Strich cataloged each photograph so that the reader could find the name of the individual. I decided to not list the names of the people. I do wish that Strich had been able to identify dates and whether or not the photograph had been taken by Fellini. Many of the photographs are blurry. These portraits are not about photographic art. They are about the faces and personalities captured.

For me this only further testifies to the humanity of Federico Fellini’s movies. And, the photographs are incredible. Sadly, this book has been out of print for some time.

The following are several of the photographs that really caught my eye. Oh, and if you are familiar with the fun world of Cult Cinema or Bad Movies, you will most likely recognize Chesty Morgan in the first photograph. I suspect that she provided this picture to Fellini as it looks like a promo shot she would have used during her Times Square stripper days.

Chesty Morgan from the Fellini Face Archive

From the Fellini Face Archive

Fellini Face Archive Subject

This woman caught my eye. I’m fairly certain she was cast in City of Women. From the Fellini Face Archive

Groovy Dude from the Fellini Face Archive

I love this photograph from the Fellini Face Archive…

Uh, oh. Looks like trouble brewing. From the Fellini Face Archive

From the Fellini Face Archive

I love this really blurry shot from the Fellini Face Archive

Gender-bending from the Fellini Face Archive

“…Now my job is to find the faces that will give it (the movie) life!”

Fellini, 1980

And, of course, Federico Fellini did just that until the end of his life in 1993.

Matty Stanfield

July/2012

Eva Ionesco’s My Little Princess, 2011

When it was announced that Eva Ionesco had written a script based upon her childhood and that she had secured Isabelle Huppert, one of the most brilliant film actors working, to star in a film Eva would direct I was quite excited. As the film industry grapples stupidly with ever-changing demands of media access, many films are getting lost in the shuffle. Eva Ionesco’s movie, My Little Princess is one of those films. Whether it was due to the subject matter, the film’s original title (I’m No Fucking Little Princess), or a perceived lack of Hollywood ‘Star Power’ — the film has yet to be picked up for US/Canadian distribution. This means that Ionesco’s film remains a curiosity for many viewers. However, if you’ve a region-free DVD player the film can be viewed right now via the UK distribution DVD.

Eva and her photographer mother, Irina Ionesco circa 1976

One can only imagine the psychological tight rope that Eva Ionesco was walking as she wrote and then filmed her version of her infamous childhood. In the event that you are not aware, Eva Ionesco’s mother became a highly acclaimed and often ridiculed photographer thanks to using Eva as the model for many of her early photographs in the early 70’s. The photographs remain controversial and debated today. The images Irina Ionesco choose to create with her daughter as a model are artistic – – possibly even poetic. However, most of the images push past what most of us would consider acceptable boundaries in the photographing of a child. Irina choose to have Eva nude and posed in sexually provocative ways. Most controversially, she allowed Penthouse Magazine to photograph Eva in a questionable manner. Because of the artistry involved in Irina’s work, she somehow managed to avoid legal persecution at the time. Of course, it was the 70’s. If ever there was a decade fueled by sexual/political confusion it was that time period. All the same, Irina and Eva Ionesco were for a brief time the darlings of the Art World. Irina’s work would go on to inspire Brooke Shield’s mother to have her daughter pose in radically controversial photographs and featured nude in the film, Pretty Baby. The difference between the photographs and work done with Brooke Shields was that it managed to never totally cross that line into pornography. Irina Ionesco’s work often seems to trip past the line into what some could easily call illegal pornography. Eva Ionesco, now well into her 40’s has never really publicly stated the impact of this time in her life. …Until now.

Isabelle Huppert and Anamaria Vartolomei as Mother/Photographer and Daughter/Model in My Little Princess. Promotional Photograph.

The challenge My Little Princess faces is the ultimate biography film conundrum: how does the director make a film about the exploitation of a child without exploiting the child playing the part? As writer/director, Eva Ionesco resolves this challenge by using dialog which discusses the graphic nature of the poses and photograph while limiting what the audience sees to uncomfortable shots of the young actor posed seductively minus any nudity or extreme costumery. This approach might have worked if Eva Ionesco had been able to tackle the difficult subject matter in a more even way.

Anamaria Vartolomei as Violetta in My Little Princess

Eva Ionesco changes the names, but this is clearly a film about she and her mother. Eva is called Violetta and Irina has become Hanna. From the moment the movie introduces us to Violetta’s mother, Hanna, it is all-too-clear that the daughter is viewed as a bother to the mother. Hanna breezes in and out of Violetta’s life like an almost comical storm of irrational emotion. Violetta has been raised by her Italian immigrant grandmother who is presented to us flatly. The character of the grandmother is no more than a prop in the film: overtly religious, doddering old lady full of superstitions. Hanna, portrayed problematically by Isabelle Huppert, is presented as shallow, tyrannical, confused, irrational, lofty, gothic, death-obssessed and narcissistic — all of these traits to the point of dark comedy. Little Violetta is presented as a sweet little girl who turns equally sour and confused as the story progresses. Hanna is given a camera by her “sort of lover” and somewhat successful painter male friend. She then discovers her true calling as a photographer. Suddenly she no longer sees her daughter as bothersome “thing” but as a beautiful model for odd and gothic concepts. And, Violetta feels the possibility of love from her mother. Hanna’s photographs of Violetta become the talk of Paris. With each photo session we come to understand that Hanna pushes Violetta to pose further and further into the realm of the unacceptable.

Isabelle Huppert as Hanna in My Little Princess

We know things are headed in a very twisted route when Hanna provides her daughter with direction as she photographs her:

“Do not smile! That is for the stupid and weddings!” and the even more telling instruction, “Look up into my eyes as if you are looking into the face of Hell.”

Anamaria Vartolomei recreating an early pose of Eva Ionesco in My Little Princess

Clothed and veiled in out-dated adult clothing and adult women’s underwear, Violetta poses at first with flowers, then religious iconography to creepy child mannequins — and, then, we are told with skeletons and ultimately nude. Though, to her credit, Eva Ionesco avoids allowing the audience to actually see the truly controversial poses. At the same time, she fails to avoid levels of exploitation with her child actress by having her act in situations that most definitely push the cinematic envelope: other adult women take her place with nudity and discussion, Hanna thinks nothing of ripping her Violetta’s normal child clothing off of her in front of her classmates in the school lobby and replace them with an odd goth-like doll dress. Hanna also instructs Violetta to dress as a “woman” — which amounts to a child in slutty clothing that gets her a fair amount of jeers from other kids and disapproving reproaches from her teachers.

“Get out of these ridiculous childish clothes!” My Little Princess

It isn’t long before Hanna makes Violetta feel that they are equals in her enterprise. She takes her everywhere with her as if they are not only co-artistes of the highest order but stylish women on the town. Before long Hana actually is the talk of Paris and the money is pouring in. Grandma is ever suspect, but happy to take the money.

My Little Princess

Anamaria Vartolomei and Isabelle Huppert walking Eva Ionesco’s cinematic tight rope in My Little Princess

Soon, a trip is taken to England where Hanna has been commissioned to photograph a rock star of the era. She entices Violetta into the trip by promising her a chance to see The Sex Pistols perform. Uh, oh. In an interesting casting choice, Jethro Cave plays the rock star. There is no ambiguity in Ionesco’s filmmaking during Hanna and Violettas’ stay in the rock stars mansion: Hanna is not above prostituting her daughter to the rock star for the job of photographing him.

Jethro Cave and Anamaria Vartolomei in My Little Princess

While the characters move in a suddle way and nothing is filmed in an unacceptable way, Eva Ionesco somehow manages to make the audience feel as if she is hitting us on the head with a hammer: Hanna is using Violetta and Violetta knows it. During their stay in England, Violetta is introduced to drugs and off-screen seduced by the rock star. Violetta’s grandmother dies and the mother/daughter relationship becomes even more complicated and confused.

Anamaria Vartolomei and Isabelle Huppert in My Little Princess

Hana finally pushes her “art” too far and the French Social Services get involved. Violetta starts to rebel against not only her mother but against all authority. Hana is faced with losing custody of Violetta.

Anamaria Vartolomei in My Little Princess

Eva Ionesco has crafted the sort of movie that falls into what I would call a sort of cinematic train wreck that is hard to not watch. Obviously, Ionesco has inherited some of her mother’s gifts for photography. My Little Princess is a beautiful looking film. The use of light, dark, color and composition is exceptional in almost every shot.

Isabelle Huppert in My Little Princess

The saddest thing about Eva Ionesco’s film is the waste of Isabelle Huppert. When the production of this film was announced Isabelle Huppert made it clear that she was thrilled to tackle a role inspired by Irina Ionesco. However, since the film was released, Huppert has stated that in all her years as an actor she had never experienced a more challenging and peculiar situation that filming My Little Princes. If one is to believe the press, Huppert has said that she knew she would need to act as a mother to Anamaria Vartolomei who was only ten years old when the movie was shot. She also knew that she would be playing Eva’s real life mother to a certain degree, but she was thrown off by the fact that she felt as if Eva Ionesco was actually projecting on to Isabelle Huppert to such a degree that she was playing “mom” both in front and well behind the camera. Huppert has also reportedly marked her concern that she is a good ten years too old for the role and there was nothing in the Ionesco’s script to explain this challenge.

Isabelle Huppert as Hana in My Little Princess

As a viewer one can almost sense Huppert’s discomfort at times. Isabelle Huppert is an infinitely talented screen actress who has always seemed to run toward the most challenging, transgressive and unlikeable characters. She has never failed to infuse the characters she plays with a reality that very few actresses would be brave or talented enough to even try to play. If there is any actresses who come close it would be Tilda Swinton, Michelle Williams or Samantha Morton. Huppert is certainly not aided in her role by the rather schizophrenic screenplay. For the first half of the film it feels as if Isabelle Huppert is channeling Jennifer Saunders from AbFabas her character is presented to us a sort of idiotic boob who thrashes her body about in boredom or frustration. And, Eva Ionesco has written Hana to be totally unaware of the reactions of others to her odd antics. “Oh, don’t worry. They are just yokels!” Hana instructs her daughter as people stare.

Isabelle Huppert hams it up for My Little Princess

And, to be honest, Huppert’s almost comic turn in the first half of the movie almost serves her scenes well. With mood swings presented in this manner it is most likely best to eat a bit of the scenery as you go along. Even still, Huppert does manage to find some powerful moments in My Little Princess.

There three key scenes that should offer the audience some insight into what must be a damaged soul of a human to take such unethical and immoral turns with her daughter. In one scene Hana makes an interesting observation about herself to Violetta: she tells her daughter that she suffers from a condition involving repulsion of the flesh. Huppert starts this scene on a roll only to be de-railed by Ionesco’s quick diversion away from the topic. That diversion is so thudding that Huppert’s brief first moment is turned into some sort of misplaced satire. Later, Hana strolls through a Parisian cemetery from which she has a perfect view from her apartment/studio. Huppert plays this scene with sly delicacy as she lays herself over a catacomb. This moment is killed by Bertrand Burgalat’s unfortunately heavy-handed musical score that would have better suited a 1940’s melodrama. The third, and what should have been the most important scene for Hanna, involves Hanna confessing to her now tainted and confused daughter, that her mother is the product of an incestuous relationship. Isabelle Huppert delivers this scene in a tender and exceptionally effective way only to be plundered by the reaction of her Violetta who delivers the last line of an old joke and “yuck”s herself away from Hanna. The viewer is left wondering if this is meant as some sort of sick joke. Left alone on screen, Huppert almost seems to be saying the same thing with her teared eyes.

And, of course the ultimate gut punch swing Eva Ionesco seems to take at her mother feels the most untrue. While I doubt there are very few people who would really and seriously argue that Irina Ionesco went to the point of child abuse in her photography of her child, I also doubt that anyone would dare to argue that Irina Ionesco is not a gifted photographer. She is especially brilliant in her self-portraits. So, it seems totally unbelievable when Eva Ionesco presents Hana making self-indulgent self-portraits like this one:

Isabelle Huppert as Hana with dolls. …Irina Ionesco must be pissed about this shot!

While the few poses and photographs Eva Ionesco re-creates for the camera work, this one fails. I am not trying to at all defend Irina Ionesco, but the artist would never take a photograph as lame as this one.

As Isabelle Huppert does her best to keep the film above the mess that is somehow is, Anamaria Vartolomei  makes her screen debut at the age of only ten playing Violetta.

Anamaria Vartolomei and Isabelle Huppert in My Little Princess

Vartolomei is amazing. Her performance is far deeper than any seen by such a young actor since Jodie Foster. Even when given ridiculous lines, Vartolomei delivers them in a believable manner. And, she also manages to somehow convey the joy of being admired and the repulsion of feeling exploited. Sadly, there is no exposition to explain how Vartolomei’s character is able to conclude that what her mother is having her do is wrong. We are just expected to know that this child knows it is wrong. …All of the sudden. …Out of the blue. …Little Violetta realizes that her modeling borderlines toward pornography. In moments of tantrums she convincingly says things like, “No! A party is a whore like art!” or “You are using me!” and the oddly blunt for a young child: “I’m your meal ticket!” Even still, Anamaria Vartolomei shines as Violetta. Aside from being astoundingly pretty she also manages to be a little girl playing “dress up” for her mother so convincingly that despite the fact that Ionesco goes to great pains to avoid exploiting the young actress — she carries herself believable as an abused child.

Anamaria Vartolomei wears the role brilliantly in My Little Princess

In the end, My Little Princess well outstays its welcome. At 135 minutes, it is far too long. And, the film itself has more mood swings than that of the character played by Isabelle Huppert. Perhaps the main problem with My Little Princess is that the film’s maker is just too intimate with the subject matter. It is almost as if an only half-healed victim of child abuse is attempting to tell her story — and the result is an uneven, schizophrenic and confused mess of a movie. My Little Princess is a cinematic error that almost errs enough to make it enjoyable. Fans of Isabelle Huppert, interesting cinematography or the whole Irina/Eva Ionesco history will ultimately be the only somewhat satisfied audience members.

As the credits rolled all I could think was how sad it was to see an actor of Isabelle Huppert’s stature failed so miserably by a director. On the bright side, there are more than a few things about this film that do work. Eva Ionesco has a keen eye and there does seem a great deal of potential here. Perhaps Eva Ionesco will get another opportunity and make a film fitting of her style. One thing is for certain: Anamaria Vartolomei looks to have a very bright future as an actress. And, if Isabelle Huppert can survive Heaven’s Gate – which she most certainly did – this film will not derail her.

Isabelle Huppert in My Little Princess

But one thing will stick with you if you choose to see this movie:

There is nothing quite like hearing Isabelle Huppert advise, “Look up into my eyes as if you are looking into the face of Hell.”

MY LITTLE PRINCESS

Eva Ionesco, 2011
 

With each viewing of Luis Bunuel’s classic film, Bell de Jour, the power of the film seems to just get stronger. And, as Criterion has released a pristine and fully restored original version of the film to BluRay it seems a good time to write a bit about this very important cinematic masterpiece.

If one is to comment on this film by Luis Buñuel he/she must take The Surreal Movement and the era in which this movie was made.

As a Surrealist, Luis Buñuel was not concerned with providing particularly narrative conclusions or logical explanations. As a filmmaker, his focus was on capturing both “reality” and “fantasy” in order to merge the two which creates true Surrealism.  Meaning the state of art where the audience might not ever be completely sure where “fantasy” begins or ends and in what place “reality” slips in or out. A quiet discomfort comes with the odd familiarity of Surrealism.

Personally, I think it is safe to state that Luis Buñuel viewed life as surreal.

Catherine Deneuve and Luis Bunuel on set of Belle de Jour

I believe that he and such Surrealist as Salvador Dali were on completely different planes of thought than most of their fellow established/remembered artists of their era.  Though this may not be a fair statement if one considers such artists as Jean Genet, Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Raúl Ruiz, Fernando Arrabal or Jan Švankmajer who all tap into the Surrealist filmmaking experience. But if there is any one film artist who come close to this type of thinking in the 21st Century it might most probably be David Lynch. However, even with Lynch and the other artists I’ve mentioned, there is a most definite “vocabulary” at play. Metaphor and hidden meanings run throughout the work of these artists — and even the late Fellini or some works by David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam flit toward Surrelaist concepts. But, they are not Surrealists in the true sense of the word as I understand it.

And, surreality must be kept in mind when watching Belle de Jour.

Another element that must be remembered when watching a film made in 1966 and released in 1967 is to expect the movie to be dated.

Even by today’s standards, Belle de Jour is way ahead of the cultural taste curve. Though, it is hard to imagine how most viewers responded to this French film when it was first released. The movie was considered controversial, perverse, bordering on pornography and shocking. I should think the average person watching this movie today would not feel it fits into any of those definitions. However, back when the film was released in caused a great deal of confusion within both the circles of film critics and intellectual audiences who championed it.

Catherine Deneuve as Belle de Jour

The challenge of trying to fully understand what the film is saying/showing still continues today. Even still, because of the time it was made, Buñuel’s approach to subject matter is now unintentionally confusing.

Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour bravely explores the mind of a female masochist at a time when the true understanding of such a person was not yet fully formed. In fact, it largely still isn’t. And, in 1967, while the psychiatric community and people were starting to understand the extent of what child abuse can cause later that child’s adult life — there was not a true understanding of the long term damaging aspects of sexual child abuse or the ways in which religion can further a child’s view of the world after having experienced molestation. The unarticulated and unspeakable guilt, horror, pleasure, self-loathing and desire for order and acceptance were not fully understood by most. Psychiatry was only just starting to get a firm grasp on this themselves. In the mid to late ’60’s our culture did not yet even have the ability to fully understand or accept the horrors of “shell shock” or PTSD other than for male soldiers who had survived terrible battles in war. Buñuel was charting new territory in a surreal way.

bells are ringing…

The Surrealist approach was probably his and the film’s saving grace with audiences. The mixing of a bored, wealthy and overly pampered woman’s fantasies with reality probably gave audiences a sense of appropriateness for finding humor and eroticism within the context of the story. With the lens of the 21st Century Culture, one must attempt to cleanse the collective pallet and accept that we are glimpsing into a surreal world created close to 50 years ago.

Even still, I can’t help but imagine how the average film audience must have responded to seeing French Beauty, Catherine Deneuve, in all her Yves St. Laurent and blond glory being bound, gagged, horse whipped, whoring herself out, being paid to play dead as her client masturbates below the coffin or being pelted with cow shit as her husband and lover both call her every vulgar name in the book. It is a bit startling now in 2012. How would this have been viewed in 1967? I have read one source that notes that many men and women who saw the film were not really sure if the john was masturbating or merely shaking in horror and that many misunderstood the horse dung to simply be mud.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour

The sheer masochistic desire of the main character is established in the first scene of the film. Without apology or explanation. It is shocking and Alice’s sexual fantasy merges with reality without warning or clue to the audience.

The “story” is simple. An upperclass young married woman is finding her marriage unsatisfying. Her husband, who looks a bit too perfect — a bit like a sexless Ken doll, obviously holds no erotic connection for her. However, it is clear she is in love with him and he with her. She is distant and cold. She is rather “removed” from her own life. Her day is pointless. And, with very clever editing  Buñuel manages to show that Alice was sexually molested as a little girl and stubbornly refused to accept her first reception of Holy Sacrament Communion — most likely because she did not feel worthy of accepting the Holy Spirit. She had already been stained and tainted. It is clear that she desires a force of eroticism from her husband that is beyond his understanding. Alice is as lost about her own desires as he would be if he knew them.

Catherine Deneuve and Jean Sorel in Belle de Jour

Alice hears about the existence of underground Parisian brothels where lower class housewives earn extra money. She ventures to explore this world. And, it is in this brothel that she discovers and has her sexual desires fulfilled. Once she finds the courage to enter the brothel she quite literally lets her hair down but it isn’t until her first client that her Madam discovers that forceis a major if not key part of her sexual appetite. This is something the brothel Madame quickly sees as ideal for some of her clients. She sternly advises Alice that she needs a firm hand.

Deneuve and Geneviève Page in Belle de Jour

A Firm Hand. Belle de Jour

Catherine Deneuve in St. Yves Laurent with bondage in Belle de Jour

Punishment. Real or Fantasy?

Catherine Deneuve as Belle working…

As Alice (AKA Belle de Jour— she can only work from between 3pm and never later than 5pm) — ventures into unknown sexual territory, she begins to learn how to assert her power as a woman. However, she is unable to name it or actually understand that she holds any power. She grapples through her reality and fantasies as if in the dark and without control.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour

At the conclusion of Buñuel’s movie the audience is given two endings. The two endings are literally interlaced at the beginning by visual and audio editing. Neither ending provides any resolution or clearly defined answer to our heroine’s situation. In fact, one could easily argue endlessly about which scenes are “real” and which are “fantasy”;  Did Alice actually work as a prostitute? Did anything we saw actually happen? How to explain the sounds we hear or the odd lines stated by the characters which feel so out of sync with the situation as it unfolds?

It is pointless to find any logical explanation for Belle de Jour.  This is clearly not Luis Buñuel’s intention. The merging of the “real” with the “fantasy” is the “surreal” and the perfect way in 1966  to attempt to explore such a culturally challenging topic as The Female Masochist.

Catherine Deneuve treading softly and without any clear idea of where the character is heading in Belle de Jour

If one requires a point to art – then my suggestion is to look at Belle de Jour as perfect example of an accomplished artist who desires to make his audience think and contemplate what has been seen. A key desire that our culture seems to be losing at a horrifying pace. As a world culture, we appear to be losing the ability to actually think.

Catherine Deneuve playing dead in Belle de Jour

Another curious aspect of Belle de Jour as seen through the early 21st Century lens is the way the collective culture views “beauty” “acting” and “filmmaking” : I’ve heard and read that many feel that Denueve had not yet found her footing as an actress. That is rubbish. She is brilliant in this film and delivers exactly what Buñuel wanted. She presents a vacant void of a woman who only seems to spring to life when punished or enraptured. The character is not intended to be fully formed. Alice is a stunted beauty at the mercy of those around her because she does not have the self-awareness or strength to even recognize her psychological challenges.

Catherine Deneuve and Geneviève Page contemplate options at the brothel in Belle de Jour

Additionally,  I often feel ill when I hear or read how the current perspective on the female body is viewed. The women in Belle de Jour are beyond beautiful. Sadly, the cultural collective has changed the definition of beauty in an extreme manner. Media wants us to think that beautiful women are to be painfully thin with fake boobs and little to no body shape/curve. The French actresses in Belle de jour have curves. They are not “fat” — the very idea that someone would think that Catherine Denueve was fat in 1966 puzzles me, but many do!

Catherine Deneuve’s beautiful nude scene in Belle de Jour

What has happened to us that actresses like Angelina Jolie or Kiera Knightley are considered beautiful when it looks like they are in dire need of a sandwich.

Anyway, I regard Belle de Jourof the most important films ever made. And, I’m happy to note that for once, I’m not all alone in my opinion!

Catherine Deneuve waits for her erotic senses to awaken in Belle de Jour

If you’ve not seen it — check it out. And, it most certainly should be seen by anyone who has an appreciation for film as art.

Belle de Jour

Luis Bunuel, 1967

Evan Glodell and Jessie Wiseman in Bellflower

From the first moment Evan Glodell’s writing/directorial debut, Bellflower, starts – – the audience knows that they are about to watch something at once slightly familiar and yet remarkably unique in almost all aspects. Bellflower is not quite like any movie you have seen. Without giving away any spoilers the film begins as a rather humorous and sad take on a relationship between two late twenty-somethings one of whom is a man obsessed with apocalyptic movies and creating weapons in preparation for the end of times.

The main character fill his days and time with his best bud day dreaming about the ultimate apocalypse in which they will each play roles of the Mad Max/Road Warriortypes.  These two men share a child-like joy in the planning of playing these roles in the Hell that will be left after the world as they know it ends. All the more interesting is the fact that these two “dudes” do not even have any sense of their own immaturity or the irony that their adult feet are planted so firmly in adolescence.

Woodrow’s Flame Shooter

The plot takes a turn for the romantic when Woodrow, played by director/writer, Evan Glodell, meets the beautiful and equally odd, Milly. Like Woodrow and his close pal, Aiden, Milly seems to be stuck in a rut of narcissistic immaturity. Milly and Woodrow fall in love but both lack the maturity to navigate the wild woods of a romantic relationship.

It isn’t long before their relationship takes a dead end turn. At that point Bellflower pulls the audience into the darkest corners of damaged heartbreak and rage. Bellflower becomes a devastatingly disturbing apocalyptic journey filtered through the eyes of drug-fueled insanity.

Though filmed on a “shoe string” budget, Glodell, his crew and actors have created a masterful piece of cinema.

Certainly there are flaws along the way. Some of Bellflower plays with “Mumblecore-like” intentions that don’t quite work. However, any flaws are hidden by Glodell’s style of the movie. Brilliantly filmed – – the cinematography, lighting, acting, editing and music bring Bellflower a stunning rage filled life of it’s own. The special effects do not seem like special effects. They look and feel all too real and unexpected. Glodell has cleverly created a highly artistic and powerful study of the Love Wounded Boy-Man Walking.  As this metaphor that when merges with the stunted emotionality of the character, Bellflower comes close to the trajectory of Coppola’s cinematic masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.  In fact, Bellflower almost manages to make Apocalypse Now seem like a Disney movie. This impact is quite a cinematic feat.

Even Glodell as Woodrow

Evan Glodell’s Bellflower deals with pain and frustration that every young adult feels in his/her first loves and quite literally blows them to oblivion. It is a gut punch that would make the strongest of people bend over or, at the very least, squirm in their seats.

Milly’s Shit

Rebekah Brandes in Bellflower

This movie is tapping into a current vibe shared by many as we enter the 21st Century. So much is unknown. So much is uncertain. Uncomfortable change and misadventure seem to be in the air. Bellflower plays with that creepy societal feeling to an extreme that turns to an almost manic glee of vengeance. The failure of the characters to have grown into mature/adjusted men and women is presented as a reflection of a generation weaned on TV, bad movies and low expectations. Bellflower grinds into the psyche as a blistering reminder of our shared creation of a generation of people largely misplaced and lost.

Bellflower, like Woodrow’s amped up car called  Medusa, speeds, twists, turns, shoots out the very flames of fury and spins out of control into crashing oblivion. Horrible heartbreak speeds through the veins of Woodrow without the boundaries of emotional understanding to know when to put on the breaks or slow down at corner.

The car called Medusa might as well be considered a living character in Evan Glodell’s Bellflower

Bellflower takes the audience into an apocalypse it will not soon forget and does so without any signal of regret or apology.

This is unbridled hardcore/punk cinema. Bellflower is a testosterone fueled vision of love’s war and devastation. And, Evan Glodell takes no prisoners. No one is spared and no one is innocent as Woodrow’s Medusa takes its fast cruise into Hell.

This is not a film for all tastes but no one can deny it’s raw power and artistic play out and pay off. 

It will not leave you feeling good.

It refuses to play by the rules.

The best thing to do is simply get out of the way or hop into Medusa and allow Bellflower‘s angry vision to wash over your senses. It is a ride you will not forget.

The film has been assigned an R-rating for adult themes, graphic sex, nudity, violence, drug use and foul language.  It is not for the faint-of-heart.

Off the grid and unhinged, Bellflower is a work of cinematic art that refuses to be ignored. It has been long time that a new filmmaker has created a movie this impressive.

 Bellflower
Evan Glodell, 2011