#356- Diabolique

Quick recap: A wife and the mistress team up to kill the husband, who’s really a jerk. After murdering him and dumping his body in a pool, things start to get weird. Even weirder than a wife and mistress teaming up!

My partner teacher and I when we are supposed to be watching the kids at recess

 

Fun (?) fact: Director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat Alfred Hitchcock to the rights to the film within a few hours. Don’t feel bad for ‘ol Hitchcock though: he later bought the film rights to another novel by the same author and called that film Vertigo.

Just a couple of teachers unwinding after a long semester

My thoughts: Before I start my review, let me just point out that two teachers having time to pull off a murder such as this one is ridiculous. Real teachers are so tired at the end of term that all we do is drink and sleep, not carry out heavily detailed plots to murder loved ones.

You’d think I’d also point out the absurdity of a mistress and wife teaming up but that’s where you are wrong because I loved it. If you take out the murder this becomes a buddy movie that writes itself. The wife, Christina, got on my nerves with her ‘delicate heart condition’ and wearing pigtails even though she’s like 30. But Nicole, the mistress, balances her out perfectly. The movie can be slow at times but the acting is so good that I didn’t really notice the lull. I’d love to add more about Nicole and Christina’s relationship but I can’t because there is a crazy twist that I just don’t have the heart to spoil right now.

seriously, the movie made me promise not to tell anyone

The entire movie is a slow build to something wonderful and actually terrifying so the pay off is worth it. After Michel’s murder, he keeps popping up everywhere, even though the women dumped him into a pool. The creepiest part for me was when the clothes he wore when he died were brought back to the school via a dry cleaners errand boy. It was such a tiny detail but all the possibilities as to how it happened made everything all the more spookier. That’s all I can say for now, except to go search this movie out for yourself and DON’T SPOIL IT!

Final review: 4/5

Up next: back to normal with La Dolce Vita

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#349- A Man Escaped

Quick recap: Based on a true story from World War II, a man escapes from prison.

Fun (?) fact: A Man Escaped is based on the story of Andre Devigny who served as a consultant because the director wanted everything as authentic as possible. Devigny even let the cast borrow the hooks and and ropes he made to escape. Oh, and SPOILER ALERT the man does actually escape.

 

My thoughts: Never have I felt so inadequate about myself than last night when I watched this movie. Math and Physics were never my strongest subjects in school and now I realize that if I’m ever locked up for a war crime I didn’t commit, I’m toast. This guy had the most complicated plan, most of which involved making everything on his own and it WORKED. I, on the other hand, would spend months tying knots in my bedsheets only to have them break apart in my hands once I tried to use them. And making my own hook? Forget it! I can’t even handle a pair of scissors without cutting myself. The fact that this story is all true makes it even more amazing.

Judging just on cinematography features and sound alone, this film has rightfully earned its place on this list. The shots are beautiful and capture the suspense and loneliness prisoner Fontaine felt during his internment. Throughout most of the film Fontaine is dressed in a simple white shirt and pants that have been splattered in his own blood. No torture scenes are ever shown as that shirt is the only reminder one needs. The same goes for the firing squad who are never shown but their gunshot echoes are some of the most chilling sounds I have heard in a film.

Normally in a blog post about war I’ll say ‘war is hell’ and although this is very definitely a war film, it is also very definitely not. It’s a story of survival and optimism and creativity and it’s also one of the most suspenseful movies I have seen on this list. Many scenes involve Fontaine using a spoon to slowly strip away wooden molding on the door and every single shaving dropped on the floor caused my anxiety level to go up. Even though I just watched the film it’s so hard to imagine that this actually happened to a real person and he survived. The character Fontaine faced the firing squad if he didn’t escape so the stakes were high either way. Still, most people wouldn’t have the courage he did or the perseverance to pull it off.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: A special surprise for #350!

 

 

#343- The Cranes Are Flying

Quick recap: Boris and Veronica are young lovers torn apart by war in Soviet Russia.

Fun (?) fact: This was one of the first movies to come out from the USSR that didn’t involve propaganda.

The 3rd line in this movie is about the cranes flying so I appreciate not having too think too heavily of the title

My thoughts: Am I bad person for wanting this to be chockfull of propaganda? I find those films fascinating because I like to see if I actually come around to the idea.

Salt of the Earth and All Quiet on the Western Front: YES

Storm Over Asia and Sergeant York: big fat NO

Alas, this was not one of those films, but instead another depressing one about war and its consequences. War is hell, y’all.

Right off the bat, I totally bought into Boris and Veronica’s relationship. They weren’t just cute together, but their playful banter felt genuine and not too over the top gloopy. I especially loved his nickname for her: squirrel. What I didn’t love was that he volunteered to go to war and literally left the next day. And even more than that, I was crushed that the two didn’t see each other before he shipped out. Like I said, I was all the way invested in this relationship. Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about Russian history so I’m not even going to try and sum up went on the war. All I know is that it was rough and not just for the soldiers. Even with a victory, I knew that the characters faced a long road ahead of them. And boy did they ever! For starters, Veronica’s parents are killed in an air raid. And then when she moves in with Boris’ family, his cousin Mark rapes her during another air raid and the two have to get married. AND THEN BORIS DIES. This movie was on a whole other level of drama I was not prepared for. As sad as it is, apparently Russian audiences really identified with the plot at the time. This movie was the first time many of them felt like it was ok to grieve for their suffering and hardships. It really made me think about all the bullshit governments put the common people through for the ‘greater good’.

Aside from the stellar acting and plot, there were many scenes and close ups that were gorgeous. The camerawork felt modern and had it not been in black and white, I might think this movie was a recent addition. Cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky used hand held cameras for much of the movie, and is one of the first to do so. The result isn’t shaky, thank god, but instead, seems like a more intimate look into the lives of a family going through a horrible time.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Days of Heaven

 

#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. 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