#341- The 400 Blows

Quick recap: A young boy in France gets into a little trouble, which leads to big trouble down the road.

Once you go Balzac you never……something something

Fun (?) fact: The 400 Blows is a bad translation of the French phrase ‘Faire les quatre cents coups’. It’s actually an idiom that roughly means ‘to raise hell’. The 400 Blows has a better ring to it, even if it doesn’t really make sense.

My thoughts: Here we have yet another coming of age story set in France. By the end of the list I think I’ll have more memories of being a male youth in the 50s and 60s in France than my own actual childhood. That’s not to say that this movie was bad, of course. Far from it, in fact. The problem is that I watched The 400 Blows after watching other subpar coming of age French films so what seems a tired addition is actually the opposite. The 400 Blows is the gold standard other films should try to be.

The character of Antoine Doinel is as close to a realistic kid as I have probably ever seen in a movie. He’s a scoundrel for sure, but only in the way a kid with a rough home life turns out to be sometimes. I felt so much sympathy watching Antoine get into more and more trouble but it thankfully never turned into pity, an emotion I hate experiencing during a movie. It broke my heart when he finally got caught stealing the typewriter and had to spend the night in jail. At the same time, though, here is a relatively smart kid who could’ve made a different choice so many times but didn’t. Going to the observation place seems like the best place for a kid like him but a part of me was also thrilled when he escaped a little while later.

Like Jules and Jim, the other Francois Truffaut directed film I’ve seen, The 400 Blows is filled with gorgeous panoramic shots of France. My favorite shot happened as the two boys decided to run around town since they had been suspended for the rest of the term. They run down several flights of steps and through a neighborhood, ending up at a children’s puppet program. I felt the same emotions as the boys probably had- freedom and a bit of apprehension that this can’t go on forever. The 400 Blows is a beautiful film, not just for the visuals but for the humanity of the characters.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her

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#335- High Noon

Quick recap: A bad guy is on the noon train to get revenge on a marshal who sent him up north to be hung. The marshal, against almost all advice, chooses to fight him and his gang rather than run away.

I’d gladly watch two hours of Lloyd Bridges smirking

Fun (?) fact: Considering a book has been written about the filming of High Noon, there is a ton of trivia to choose from. I’ll go with the most salacious though because I don’t do that enough- Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly carried on an affair throughout the duration of filming. Is this what it feels like to be Perez Hilton? Is Perez Hilton even a thing anymore?

I will not mention Gary Cooper’s age. I will not mention Gary Cooper’s age. I will not-

My thoughts: Right before starting High Noon, I realized I’m just about burned out on the Western genre. I started out with dread and that quickly turned into head over heels love. There are a few stinkers, to be sure, but it’s been a good run so far. Thankfully, this film is one of the better ones on the list and knowing that John Wayne despised it until the day he died is the cherry on top. Maybe I’m not done yet. Westerns, I wish I could quit you.

One of the most unique aspects of High Noon is that it is almost entirely shot in ‘real time’, as Marshal Kane waits for the noon train. The anticipation is palatable, not just because I wanted to see who would arrive but also because it’s a race against the clock. Had this been a montage, I don’t think I would’ve been as empathetic to Kane as he tried to drum up support as well as attempted to keep his bride from leaving him. Whoever wrote this 1001 movies list must be a sucker for the technique like I am because there are several movies that play out like this one did. Two that come to mind are Cleo from 5 to 7 and Run Lola Run.

As a whole, High Noon isn’t better or worse than other Westerns I have watched lately. I was a little ‘meh’ when it was over, and then I learned that the whole movie is an allegory for the Red scare. Shortly after High Noon was released, screenwriter Carl Foreman was blacklisted from Hollywood due to alleged communist ties. In this light, the film takes on a much more important role to me. At the time, most people were terrified of these meetings and knew that they didn’t have much choice with what might happen. Most actors and directors chose to distance themselves from anything that might label them ‘unpatriotic’ but there were a few that stood up to McCarthy and ultimately it finally faded away. Marshal Kane knew that he could run and hide and probably go on to live a normal life, but that would be wrong. It’s so satisfying to see one person fight for what is right, whether it is a showdown in the Wild West or a bunch of teens in high school. High Noon is the happy ending we all need.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: A Philadelphia Story

#334- Night and Fog

Quick recap: It’s a documentary about the Holocaust.

This probably won’t be a surprise, but don’t expect much humor in this review. Hopefully your expectations weren’t that high to begin with.

Fun (?) fact: Director Alain Resnais was very careful to not use the word ‘Jew’ when referring to victims of the holocaust because he wanted to create something that condemned genocide altogether. He felt that using the term, although true, might lead people to believe the Holocaust was an isolated event when in fact, could easily happen to any group of people.

My thoughts:  It has recently come to my attention that I’m not the most fun person to be around. That’s not to say I don’t have other great qualities, but I don’t think ‘bubbly’ comes to mind when most people describe me. Case in point, I chose to spend my spring break watching a film about the Holocaust and my Friday night recapping the horrible things I saw.

For a documentary about the Holocaust, this was every bit as sad and horrifying as I expected it to be, and yet there were still parts I found shocking. As the narrator said, it’s unfathomable. Night and Fog was filmed in 1955, roughly 10 years after the war ended. Resnais interspersed images of the abandoned concentration camps with real footage of the prisoners and even then everything felt surreal and almost unbelievable. As the narrator says, images and film can only show so much. It is impossible to truly understand the constant fear and apprehension felt by everyone.

For a little 30 minute film, there were so many points touched on. Resnais said he wanted to make the film as an allegory for the situation going on with France and Algeria at the time, but that sentiment could be applied for any conflict. It’s depressing to think that lessons still haven’t been learned. Genocides have happened since then, not to mention the gradual embrace of the Nazi party again. It took everything to not turn away when the images of bulldozers pushing bodies into mass graves came on the screen, but it’s something that needs to be seen. Even in 1955, Resnais was already worried that people were becoming complacent again. The narrator (whose script was written by Jean Cayrol, a concentration camp survivor), mentions people taking pictures in front of crematoriums and selling the images as postcards. The most frustrating part of the film, though, was to see the SS officers deny any wrongdoing and any responsibility whatsoever. It is alluded to the fact that so many of these camps are situated just outside of big cities, implying entire nations of people who knew what was going on. And still, it happened. And still, it continues to happen.

Final review: 5/5. Essential viewing.

Up next: High Noon

 

#328- Umberto D

Quick recap: A sad old man makes sad choices about his dog.

This movie is sad.

Fun (?) fact: Most of the actors in the film weren’t professional. The main character, Umberto, was played by a professor of Linguistics and the maid was played by a woman who had shown up to the audition to support her friend.

PSA: Don’t watch this movie if you have a heart

My thoughts: I’m starting to catch on to the idea that if an old Italian movie is on my list, it’s going to be sad. Even movies like 8 1/2, which are supposed to have comedic elements end up leaving me in a state of depression I can’t shake. And don’t even get me started on Rome, Open City. Good lord, that movie should come with a warning.  So, when you look at films like Umberto D from this perspective, it’s downright pleasant considering what it could’ve been.

The movie starts with a protest by old men whose pensions aren’t enough to sustain them. One of those men is Umberto. His story is especially sad because his only companion is a dog who loves and trusts him unconditionally. There’s a bigger story here about how the elderly are treated and the lengths some of them go to in order to survive, but, let’s be real, all I cared about was the dog. At one point, Umberto is going to be evicted from his apartment and knowing that he can’t support his companion, looks to find a caretaker. The only one in his price range refuses to take the animals out for walks and keeps them in deplorable conditions. The poor dog shivers at the sight of the bigger dogs and it broke my heart to see Umberto have to make such a hard decision. In the end, he decided to look for another solution. I was relieved but that scene showed me that there were no easy answers.

Some other solutions Umberto tries: checking himself into a hospital until his pension check arrives and he can pay his rent, giving his dog away to a little girl who played with him and the most heartbreaking- trying to take his and the dog’s life on the railroad tracks. Luckily, the dog freaked out and ran away at the last second because I wouldn’t have been able to endure the other result. The movie ends with Umberto and the dog walking through the park. Nothing is resolved- neither of them have a shelter or food, but they are both still alive and they are both together, which is I guess the moral of the story? Honestly, I’d just rather not think about this movie anymore if I don’t have to.

Final review: 4/5 But good luck being able to sit through this without calling your doctor and being prescribed an anti-depressant.

Up next: The Right Stuff