Charlie Chaplin’s somewhat cynical, entirely charming and surprisingly provocative Monsieur Verdoux marks the beginning of his post WWII move into more subdued, thoughtful work. While not completely bereft of the slapstick humor that made him famous, Monsieur Verdoux is a much darker piece for the master of silent comedy, carrying with it the widespread despondence that encompassed a global population who had just witnessed one of the most horrific wars in human history.
Instantly losing a career thirty-years in the making, Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) is desperate to make a life for himself via any possible means. Driven past the limits of sanity, Verdoux decides to use his cunning charms and superior intellect to seduce rich single women into marriage. Maintaining a “stable” of wives, Verdoux travels to every corner of France on a constant mission to rid the women of their worldly possessions, and, in succeeding, rids them of their lives.
Interconnection is what lies at the heart of Noah Baumbach’s triumphant Frances Ha, and as Baumbach posits, at the heart of life itself. A film that is equally riveting and hard to watch, profound and yet silly, Frances Ha is a story about the challenges of finding a life you can live with, and what it takes to find someone with which to spend it.
Frances (the endlessly charming Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) have been best friends since college. Moving to New York City after they graduated, the duo spends most of their days together completing a series of secretive and silly routines from which they derive untold, personal meaning. Frances and Sophie “are the same person, but with different hair,” as Frances bluntly puts it. Inside jokes are spoken like interjections of a foreign language, only Sophie and Frances can understand. Baumbach intently focuses the exposition of his film on this, very important, relationship. None of the jokes are explained, and neither are their “rituals,” but the connection that Gerwig and Sumner emit is so pure that no heavy-handedness or explanatory dialogue is necessary – Baumbach points his camera (the discussion of the talent behind this pointing will happen later), and lets the magic of the relationship speak for itself. Frances is one of the last “poor” artists in New York, an apprentice dancer at a floundering dance company, and Sophie has lofty dreams of journalism, quickly working her way through the ranks of Reuters. As with most post-collegiate relationships, Frances and Sophie’s interdependence is slowly withering, and Sophie cannot pass up an opportunity to move to TriBeCa. “Alone” and unavailing in her dreams of becoming a famous dancer, Frances must come to terms with adult life, and learn to judge success based on her own happiness, and not the perceived happiness of those around her.
Perhaps the most bi-polar director working today, David Gordon Green has used his eye for natural beauty in films like George Washington and Snow Angels, and something quite else (perhaps devotion to friends) for his more comedic pursuits like Your Highness and The Sitter. In Prince Avalanche, Green’s pensive appreciation of beauty evokes the likes of Terrance Malick (sans magic hour) and creates a tone of otherworldly introspection; heightening the impact of the film.
Set in the summer of 1988 in the backwoods of Bastrop, Texas, contemplative Alvin (Paul Rudd) and the absent minded Lance (Emile Hirsch) work for the state of Texas repainting roads after a massive fire destroyed thousands of acres of woodland. Alvin has been working on the road crew since the spring, and recently brought on Lance as a favor to his girlfriend, Lance’s sister. As the two struggle to adjust, Alvin to the companionship of the dim-witted Lance, and Lance to the isolation of life on a remote road crew, they each discover a unique friendship they once deemed impossible.
Billed as “The ultimate Italian road comedy” Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso not only lives up to expectations, but mingles brightly colored wit and thoughtful human drama to create a well-rounded and brilliantly inspired film. Using a formulaic duo comprised of a shy “straight man” and a more boisterous extrovert, Risi and his writing team flesh out the story and characters with richly textured personalities and polished dialogue.
A slightly damaged Lancia Aurelia hastily speeds down the empty streets of Rome. It is late summer, and, due to the holidays, every shop in town has closed their doors – making their way towards the expansive Italian coastline. Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman) is in a hurry to meet up with a group of women, but is in dire need of a telephone. Catching the gaze of a man in a window, Bruno implores the man to call his friends, shouting a telephone number and brief instructions. Roberto Mariani (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a quiet, third-year law student studying for September exams. Unwilling to come across as rude, and far too bashful to possibly sound foolish over the phone, Roberto invites Bruno up to place the call himself. The two men have an immediate back-and-forth, each seeming impressed by the other. They leave for a drink, Roberto needing some persuasive coaxing, with a promise to make it quick. As Roberto and Bruno scour the town for an open restaurant or bar, they drive farther and farther out to the city limits exploring the region for points of interest. Their afternoon trip turns into a much longer one, with Roberto constantly trying to politely slip away from Bruno’s beguiling charms.