• A Sunday in the Country

    A Sunday in the Country

    ★★★★½

    "But against those truths that hurt, men have one sure defiance: denial."

    Wistful vibes supplant conflict in Bertrand Tavernier's meticulously observed post-fin de siècle family portrait A Sunday in the Country (Un dimanche à la campagne). At the center of the restful slice-of-life scenario (co-written with Tavernier's ex-wife Colo) is elderly patriarch Monsieur Ladmiral (Louis Ducreux), a refined studio painter of admirable skill whose distinctiveness is nonetheless limited by an unyielding adherence to traditional technique. Since becoming a widower Ladmiral…

  • Toni

    Toni

    ★★★★

    "It's so hard to call it quits."

    Spoilers: you had eighty-six years to watch this.

    Having emigrated from his native Italy to the south of France to perform manual labor in a quarry, red-blooded Toni (Charles Blavette) begins a casual affair with boarding house operator Maria (Jenny Hélia)—though his heart is set on fellow migrant Josépha (Celia Montalván). Despite making some early headway in this department, Toni's dreams of marital bliss with Josépha evaporate when the quarry's wicked foreman Albert…

  • A Week's Vacation

    A Week's Vacation

    ★★★★

    "Being happy is what matters in life."

    The Criterion-imposed Bertrand Tavernier retrospective rolls on, heading back to the writer/director's native Lyon for the low-key character study A Week's Vacation (Une semaine de vacances). Co-written with ex-wife Colo Tavernier and Marie-Françoise Hans, the scenario hinges on a flashback-laden week of reflective recreation for Laurence Cuers (Nathalie Baye)—a burnt-out schoolteacher at loose ends over how to navigate her increasingly dissatisfying professional life, the declining health of her aging father (Jean Dasté), and…

  • Pierrot le Fou

    Pierrot le Fou

    ★★★★★

    CRITERION CHALLENGE 2021: 3. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

    Progress: 21/52

    "Come on—we've played Jules Verne long enough; let's get back to our detective novel, with fast cars and guns and nightclubs."

    Cerebral ass Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) whimsically abandons his moneyed, overbearing Italian wife and daughter when the stand-in babysitter turns out to be erstwhile flame Marianne (Anna Karina), an elusive sensualist with murky ties to right-wing paramilitary types. This unshakable association leads the reunited couple to flee Paris for the…

  • Story of a Prostitute

    Story of a Prostitute

    ★★★★

    "So, it means I get a thousand men; I wonder if I can handle them."

    Intent on fucking the pain away at all costs, jilted prostitute Harumi (Yumiko Nogawa) relocates to the Manchurian sector of the Second Sino-Japanese War to volunteer her bodily services as a 'comfort woman' for scores of Japanese servicemen—only to be requisitioned as the primary plaything for barbarous adjutant Narita (Isao Tamagawa). In retaliation Harumi commences a surreptitious affair with Narita's stalwart aide Mikami (Tamio Kawachi),…

  • Sea Countrymen

    Sea Countrymen

    ★★★★

    "They've been following the same route for millenniums."

    As with Vittorio De Seta's brilliant short Islands of Fire, a striking resemblance to a famous scene from Stromboli makes me wonder if Rossellini's film inspired De Seta's immersive Sea Countrymen (Conadini del mare). At a slender eleven minutes, De Seta's short begins at dawn as a ragged chorus of silhouetted fishermen embark on an involved tuna hunt—first rigging a huge net connected by a surrounding phalanx of stationary boats, then enjoying…

  • The Gambler

    The Gambler

    ★★★½

    "Listen—if all my bets were safe, there just wouldn't be any juice."

    Though Czechoslovakian by extraction, director Karel Reisz came of age in the British film industry, wherein he co-pioneered (alongside Lindsay Anderson and Gavin Lambert) the anti-commercial Free Cinema documentary movement. The Gambler is the first of two U.S. efforts Reisz made in the 1970s before returning to England to direct The French Lieutenant's Woman—the film for which he is perhaps best remembered. What began as a semi-autobiographical novel…

  • Betty Tells Her Story

    Betty Tells Her Story

    ★★★★½

    "She was sort of dove gray and she had sort of a dove gray voice."

    By turns as diverting as it is plaintive, Liane Brandon's twenty-minute short Betty Tells Her Story is a classic undersell; for indeed Betty tells her story not once but twice. The first telling is approached in an almost breezily conversational manner, followed by a title card indicating that Brandon asked Betty to recount her story afresh later that same evening. It's unclear if Betty was…

  • Death Watch

    Death Watch

    ★★★

    "Look how shy we've become about death—it's the new pornography."

    Spoilers abound.

    In a somnolent future society wherein disease has been all but eradicated, a terminal diagnosis turns spirited publisher Katherine Mortenhoe (Romy Schneider) into an involuntary overnight celebrity. Bedeviled by avaricious NTV television executive Vincent Ferriman (Harry Dean Stanton), Katherine's mortal decline becomes the subject of a morbid reality-TV show captured by the surgically enhanced retina-cam of cyborg lensman Roddy (Harvey Keitel). Masquerading as a good samaritan enabling Katherine's…

  • Color Me Barbra

    Color Me Barbra

    ★★★½

    Originally broadcast on 30 March 1966, the second of Queen Barbra Streisand's CBS television specials is the fanciful Color Me Barbra. As with My Name Is Barbra, there are no guests in sight and I wouldn't have it any other way. The garish extravaganza doubles as a promotional device for Streisand's seventh studio album of same name, which the diva par excellence renders sequentially in its totality (comprising nearly the whole program). I can summon no unifying principle with which…

  • The Kid

    The Kid

    ★★★★½

    CRITERION CHALLENGE 2021: 31. Directed by Charlie Chaplin

    Progress: 20/52

    "A picture with a smile—and perhaps, a tear."

    A desperate, unwed mother (Edna Purviance) abandons her newborn (Silas Hathaway—to be replaced by child star Jackie Coogan in later scenes), who is eventually found by the little tramp (Charlie Chaplin). After trying to pawn the kid off onto a random matron and a fellow derelict respectively, the tramp briefly considers chucking him down a sewer (in a moment that harkens back…

  • The Swindlers

    The Swindlers

    ★★★★

    "I've swindled my way around the world because the world is full of idiots."

    Spoilers on everything—spoilers on wedding ring.

    The tragic story of a resourceful man who sublimates his entire identity to escape the fundamental shamefulness of his way of life, Il bidone (often translated as The Swindlers, though the Criterion Channel subtitles opt for The Swindle) sadly remains one of Federico Fellini's most unheralded efforts—situated as it is between the beloved La Strada and Nights of Cabiria. Other…