#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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#338-Heat

Quick recap: A group of robbers feel the HEAT from the police while the police feel the HEAT from the robbers. Bystanders feel the HEAT from the massive shootout. I felt the HEAT from Val Kilmer’s long luxurious locks.

It’s possible to be underdressed but never overdressed. Even to a shootout.

Fun (?)fact: Actor Kevin Gage, who plays Waingro in the film was imprisoned in real life for a couple of years. Naturally, all the inmates referred to him as ‘Waingro’.

Honestly, the best part of the movie.

My thoughts: I was told by a friend that I had to be in the ‘right mood’ to enjoy this film, so I waited until a Saturday night when I was in the mood for lots of murder. Unfortunately, maybe I misread my own signals because I just didn’t fall in love with Heat like I thought I would.

All the ingredients are there: a stellar cast, top notch directing, a fast moving plot. Really, I can’t think of anything else I would want more in a movie. And yet, I just didn’t really care for it. At a basic level, I failed to care about any of the characters, so when one of them evaded police or when the police got closer to catching the bad guys, I remained meh. I thoroughly enjoyed Al Pacino’s performance as Vincent Hanna but just couldn’t bring myself to really care about his character. I felt like Robert De Niro as Neil had much more depth, but if we are being honest here, the goatee really bothered me. Something about it just screamed ,’this is the 90s and don’t you forget it!’ and I didn’t. Even the music was so 90s- a cross between every heist movie from that time period and the kind of music you would find on Showtime at 2 in the morning back then.

To take a bit of the blame here, I spent way more time trying to figure out what the con was, rather than focus on the relationships. At its heart, this is what makes Heat so powerful. No just the symbiotic relationship between Neil and Vincent, but all the relationships between the characters. One scene in particular really drove this home. All of the gang got together at a swanky restaurant and brought their significant others as well as a few children. Neil sat at the head of the table, looking around and feeling sorry for himself that he didn’t have someone special to share the night with. But to go to a deeper point, all of these men were in a dangerous profession and in fact, cops were watching their every move as they dined together. There was this impact point when I realized that every single person at that table was about to have their life ruined in some way. It brought to mind the whole idea of choices and at what point our choices become another person’s destiny. So, to that effect, I totally get this movie and it’s importance. But I still don’t like the goatee.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Taste of Cherry

#333- Le Samouraï

Quick recap: Jef Costello is either a great hitman or a really terrible one. After completing a job he almost immediately gets picked up by the police and questioned. He manages to weasel his way out, only to find himself in trouble with the guys who hired him. What’s a hitman to do?

maybe start by wearing different clothes than the ones that literally EVERYONE identifies you in.

Fun (?) fact: The quotation about samurai at the beginning of the film is entirely fictional. This movie actually has nothing to do with samurai.

and everything to do with looking cool

My thoughts:  Crime movies are a dime a dozen on this list, but very few of them come from France. And of those, this is the only one where I could’ve kept watching for several more hours and at the same time almost lost my sanity because of the incessant bird chirping.

Director Jean-Pierre Melville borrows much of the aesthetic for Le Samouraï from America at the time- slinky jazz clubs, dapper people running around everywhere. And yet, this is very much a French arthouse film. The first 10 minutes have no dialogue whatsoever and yet, the scene is so enthralling. I also loved that there is a mystery about who this hitman is and who hired him but I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be getting any answers. Le Samouraï exists within himself. It’s even impossible to figure out whether or not he is a ‘bad guy’. I mean, he killed someone, yes, but that guy could’ve been evil or something. So I ended up dividing my time between wanting the guy to come out on top but also wanting him to get caught and pay for his crimes. It was a rare feeling to not know how I’m supposed to feel about characters.

One reason the characters are so confusing is because the audience is just thrust into the story. We don’t know how many years the hitman has operated or what business the people who hired him have. In the first few scenes, the hitman sets out creating an alibi for himself before he commits the murder. He visits a woman, Jane, and expects her to lie for him, which she does, when the police call her into question. It is assumed that these two have some sort of relationship but it could also just be that she works for him specifically for this purpose. And the police themselves make this plot even more complicated. I could never figure out whether the hitman was really bad at his job and that’s why he was caught so quickly or if the police were really good at their job and it was only a matter of time. Once again, it was hard to know who to trust.

But above all, there is that stupid bird. God, I hated that bird. I recently lost some of my hearing due to sickness and it’s been both a blessing and a curse. But watching this movie, I heard every single chirp. EVERY. SINGLE. CHIRP. I’m sure there is a fancy French reason to put that in so many scenes but I don’t have the patience to find out. I’m not a fan of hurting or killing any animal but when the guys broke into the hitman’s apartment to leave a recording device, I half hoped they would put that poor bird out of its misery. I’m sure he hated his life as much as I hated hearing him but enough is enough.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Night and Fog

 

#332- Atlantic City

Quick recap: An aging gangster tries to continue being relevant. He helps a woman with her estranged husband’s funeral, sells coke and gets into a turf war with mobsters.

And starring Susan Sarandon, who likes to take lemon baths

Fun (?) fact: For a movie about gangsters, there’s a surprisingly sparse amount of trivia on IMDb. The best fact I can find is that shortly after filming the movie, Burt Lancaster nearly died from a gall bladder operation.

I spent a good chunk of time thinking Burt Lancaster was Matlock. Turns out that was Andy Griffith, so I guess I can’t tell my old white guys apart.

My thoughts: Hey! It’s good to be back, or something like that. I’ve had a couple of months of constant sickness, including losing my hearing for two weeks so you’d think I would’ve chosen a stronger film to celebrate my return to hearing. Unfortunately, that’s not how life goes.

I actually started Atlantic City with high hopes. The beginning was engaging, although Sarandon felt out of place. That could just be because I’ve seen her in so many other roles. In this one, she plays the estranged wife of a drug dealer who apparently knocked up her sister and then took off with her. While I wasn’t too keen on her placement, the guy who plays the deadbeat husband is SPOT ON:

 

Like, so spot on I could imagine what he smelled like. So anyway, Dave (pictured above) comes back with the knocked up sister to sell drugs. From here, a whole bunch of plot stuff happens that I don’t want to get into because a) there’s too much and b) everything plays out how you expect it to, once you know the characters. The other important character is Lou, the aging gangster. He is introduced in the first scene, secretly spying on Sarandon giving herself a lemon bath. She later claims this is to get the fish smell off of her, but I’m pretty sure soap does that. The next scene is of him taking orders from an old lady and running errands for him. So, early on I got the idea that he has a heart of gold but also a mischievous streak in him. Or maybe just a thing for lemon baths.

Skipping ahead to the ending (because I can), Lou eventually shoots and kills two mobsters whom Dave stole coke from. It is revealed that he has a habit of skipping out on friends when their life is in danger, so this is some sort of breakthrough I don’t think most psychologists would endorse. Honestly, the only redeeming part of this movie was the actual setting- Atlantic City. The buildings seemed to have so much character to them and I imagined this rundown resort city, past its prime but ready for its moment. There’s a scene when Robert Goulet drops by to croon and if I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought this was a Lynch film, it was so surreal. There was a part of me that wished I was still deaf so I could just watch the scenes and not have to deal with the wacky plot and subpar characters.

Final review: 2/5.

Up next: Le Samourai