Tuesday, November 27, 2018

#678: Two English Girls

1971, TSPDT Rank #842

With Two English Girls, François Truffaut returned to the fertile territory that he had mined almost a decade earlier with one of his best films, Jules and Jim. Like that masterpiece, Two English Girls tells the story of three friends whose relationship becomes fractured by the development of a love triangle. It was also adapted by the only other complete novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, the author of the novel that Jules and Jim was based on, and ostensibly the prototype for both Claude and Jim. So it's impossible to keep from comparing the two films, but their approaches are different in more than ways than one. For one thing, Two English Girls inverts the characters' genders: instead of two male friends and their ideal woman, we have two sisters and a man caught between them. Maybe because of this, there is less room in this story for the peaceful menage a trois situation seen in Jules and Jim. This relationship is much more fraught and tenuous, each side struggling to get off the ground, with one side sent crashing down to earth whenever the other begins to take flight.

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This film also trades the poignant immediacy of Jules and Jim for a more reserved and nostalgic sense of melancholia. Truffaut set the film at the turn of the 20th century, conjuring a lost era and a forgotten set of moral and romantic attitudes. The only slightly later setting of Jules and Jim is belied by its energetic New Wave style and the youthful rendering of its characters, whereas here Truffaut was more successful in conveying the perspective of an older man looking back wistfully on a painful youth. The visuals are some of the most sumptuous ever captured by Truffaut - together with cinematographer Nester Alamandros, he created an impressionistic world which makes watching the film feel like stepping into a painting -  the colors more vivid than life and the action onscreen unfolding like a distant dream. However, like in Jules and Jim, the feeling that love and pain are tied together is inescapable. For Truffaut, the memories of youth can be as painful as they are beautiful.

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Thursday, November 1, 2018

#677: The Devils

Directed by: KEN RUSSELL
1971, TSPDT Rank #527

Ken Russell's most acclaimed and most controversial film opens with the claim that it is based on "historical fact" and then quickly descends into a delirious imagining of the depths of 17th century religious hypocrisy. France has been devastated by wars between Catholics and Protestants, the Catholics have won, but the king is a debauched homosexual unconcerned with anything besides satisfying his own whims. In the small village of Loudon, a non-conformist Jesuit priest (Oliver Reed) has affairs with young women and declares them part of his quest to become one with God, while a power-hungry Cardinal schemes to have the independent town under his control and a sexually-frustrated nun (Vanessa Redgrave) suffers depraved fantasies about Grandier, eventually declaring him an agent of the devil sent to possess her.

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At least this is what Russell would have us believe. Beneath the claims of historical accuracy, however, The Devils is an extremely impressionistic film, with almost futuristic set designs by a young Derek Jarman and campy characters which often seem to pave the way for The Rocky Horror Picture Show rather than invoke 17th century France. And the extreme debauchery and cruelty on display here, well known as some of the most shockingly obscene imagery ever seen in a mainstream studio film, often crosses the line into lurid, melodramatic exploitation.

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However, whatever redeeming value this movie might have can only be found by reading between the lines. Russell often seems to bombard the viewer with exploitative imagery, but what the film really shows beneath the surface is the variety of ways that people find to convince themselves and others that they are acting in God's name - when their actions precisely imitate the evil forces they claim to fight. Russell's portrayal of these themes might be seen as over the top, but it is in this way that we can see the true depths that people will sink to to protect their own delusion of religious piety - a statement that is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s or the 1630s. Make no mistake, The Devils is not a film about historical events, it is a feverishly surreal rendering of religious hypocrisy and human depravity allowed to run rampant.

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