Late Spring, one of Yasujirō Ozu’s many masterpieces, is an absolutely beautiful film, focusing on the mutual love between father and daughter. Arguably one of the greatest pictures of all time, Late Spring is truly a joy to watch.
Late Spring opens beautifully on a gathering of women for a Japanese tea ceremony. Ozu uses low angles and wide shots to capture the whole affair. He bisects the ceremony with elegantly framed shots of the surrounding garden and shrine. Ozu uses these landscape shots in most transitions throughout the movie. They wonderfully space-out the action, and act as a means to span various distances of time (be it hours, days, or weeks). The main focus of the camera is on one of the young women at the ceremony, Noriko Somiya (Setsuko Hara). She speaks lovingly of her father with her busy-body aunt (Haruko Sugimora), and on cue, Ozu cuts to a shot of her father back at home. One of Ozu’s signatures is masterfully framed shots. When he cuts to the father, Shukichi (Chishū Ryū), he is hard at work on a transcript with his assistant Hattori (Jun Usami); they are framed perfectly by the opening to their study/living room. The men inhabit the left of the screen, and are balanced by a table and tatami mats on the opposing side. A large sliding door is open in the background, showing the manicured backyard. When Noriko arrives home, Ozu cuts to the opposite corner of the room, obscuring the entrance by several walls. As she walks inside, she becomes visible through perfectly-aligned doorways and furniture. It is, in classic Ozu fashion, shot from a low angle – only about a foot or two off the floor. Ozu pioneered this shot – the tatami shot – and filmed most of his movies with the camera positioned below the actors’ eye lines.
A poignant and farcical look at 1930’s French aristocratic society, Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is an unforgettable masterpiece of cinema history.
Originally released a mere two months before the outbreak of the second World War, The Rules of the Game is full of unease and an unbearable tension. Set in the period in which it was shot, The Rules of the Game is Jean Renoir’s parody of the many socially-accepted behavioral “rules” observed by the upper class. The film opens with a beautifully-adept tracking shot following a radio broadcaster through a crowd of spectators. Newly-crowned French hero, André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) has just broken Charles Lindberg’s Atlantic crossing record. When he is finally met by the reporter and the burgeoning crowd, his excitement turns to dismay as his lover – and the inspiration for his heroic feat – is nowhere to be found. He lashes out in his moment of heartbreak, and tells the reporter that it was all for naught. This earns him some scolding from his longtime friend, Octave (played by Renoir himself), as this is not how a hero should behave in public. In a beautiful transition, Renoir cuts to behind a radio broadcasting the live report, in the beautiful mansion of Jurieux’s lover, Christine (Nora Gregor). She speaks of him with her servant Lisette (Paulette Dubost), and about how Lisette prefers to handle her extra-marital lovers. The camera follows Catherine into the bedroom of her husband, Robert (Marcel Dalio) who has also been listening to the broadcast. He senses his wife’s inner turmoil, and tells her that the poor boy mistook her flirting for love. She is comforted in his knowledge and acceptance of the affair, and tells him how much she values his trust and honesty – to which he privately reacts by scheduling a meeting to end his own affair with mistress Geneviève (Mila Parély).
Billy Wilder’s 1944 hit Double Indemnity, is a near perfect example of the Film Noir genre.
The film opens on a wounded Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) careening down the streets of Los Angeles in his black 1938 Dodge – narrowly avoiding a collision with a truck. None of this matters, however, for he is about to leave a tell-all confession for his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) to discover the next morning. The rest of the film comes as a narrated flashback while Neff lays bare his confession via dictaphone.
He calmly begins his lurid tale with an interaction between himself and Keyes. Working as an insurance salesman, Neff enters Keyes office (a claims adjuster) to an interrogation. Keyes is telling a man whose truck has recently burned-out that his claim will not be paid due to “a gut feeling from the little man in his stomach”. He had found evidence of insurance fraud in the form of kindling left underneath the truck. Keyes’s keen intuition and relentless attention to detail endear him to Neff, but also prove to be an unavoidable obstacle.