Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 18, 2011 11:26 am 
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Fast forward through fifty years of fimmaking

From One Film to Another takes a risk: it begins with the most exciting footage it has to offer. This is a brief but hair-raising sequence that will thrill any guy or gal who's ever wanted to get into a fast car and roar through Paris breaking every possible traffic law. It's called "C'était un rendez-vous" and it lasts nine minutes, and Lelouche did the whole thing himself, with a camera strapped onto what sounds like a high-strung Italian sports car, and he did it at six a.m. one morning in 1976. (Tech note: the car driven was a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL, but reving and gear change sounds of Lelouch's own Ferrari 275 GTB.) This is one of the best and most authentic vehicular action sequences ever shot. And it was all done without any special effects or tricks of editing whatsoever: one continuous shot that for nine minutes makes you wish you had a lot more horse power in your a car and a lot less good sense in your head. But what the heck: he does it for us. (You can watch the film on YouTube.) This, Lelouche says, is how he has approached filmmaking all his life, always taking risks, following his dream, ready to fail, running a few red lights, breaking a few traffic laws, getting points against him and losing his license once in a while, but when he won, winning big. It might also be that as the title suggests, Lelouch is precipitous in his headlong rush from one film to another, the kind of director whose favorite film is always the one he is about to make.

Claude Lelouch's self-made documentary of his life's work as a director may seem an act of self-promotion. It highlights his charm, energy and commitment, and the proudly (and affectionately) shows off the array of actors he has featured and in some cases made into stars. Unflattering personal confessions are nowhere in evidence. There is one notable exception, though: Lelouch is ruthlessly honest in confessing his many artistic and commercial failusre right from the start of his career as a filmmaker. Nor is it certain From One Film to Another (D'un film à l'autre) will win many new converts to his work. Mainly just a rapid run-through of all his filmography with clips from them and clips from "making of's," with no new footage but enhanced by the director's precipitous voice-over, this isn't on a par with the meditative, enchanting and rich cinematic autobiography that is Varda's Beaches of Agnès of 2008.

Lelouch has made charming and visually lush (if borderline kitsch) films like his recent Roman de Gare or his most famous, career-making A Man and a Woman. He has made grand ones like Les Miserables (a success in the States). How many are simply inexplicable I must leave to those more familiar with his work to say, but I've seen a few. The director tends to use one tête-à-tête to exemplify a film which suggests a penchant for theatrical monologues in which one actor stares dumbfounded while he or she is lectured by the other.

Lelouch traveled in Russia in the Fifties and shot with a hidden camera. The result got him to be a military filmmaker. He learned through the non-actors he had to use for his less than admirable efforts the considerable value of a professional cast. His first efforts as a civilian weren't very successful. He had to make the contemporary equivalent of music videos to survive from time to time. Then he made A Man and a Woman, with Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Tritignant and the music of Francis Lai, and he was made. He won an Oscar, and to his credit, he said then that he would not use this huge American success to make Hollywood films but would always continue to make "films d'auteur." A conventional translation for that phrase today is "arthouse films."

So in that sense, Lelouch considers himself an "auteur." But he is, to put it mildly, not the darling of critics. He is not edgy. It's not easy to define a style for him.

What impresses are several qualities shown in the "making of" sequences, acknowledged by some of the actors he worked with. He had an infectious energy, a love of filmmaking, a willingness to work 18 hours a day. He did his own camerawork. He defines Kalatzov's 1957 The Cranes Are Flying, particularly a dolly shot where a cameraman spins down a spiral staircase following an actor, as giving birth to his desire to make movies together with his sense that the star of every movie is the camera. He takes input from everybody, is known as an actors director, and thinks when there are experienced specialists on the set, it would be idiotic not to take advice from them.

These are all sterling qualities. Why then have I not liked more of Claude Lelouch's movies? Well, you can't have anything. But maybe I simply need to see more of them, to be sure. But there are 51. It's a daunting task, given that what I have seen by him has not profoundly impressed me. But seeing some of the actors Lelouch has director does whet the appetite of any cinematic francophile. A Wikipedia article suggests he has ceased to interest the French audience and may have been replaced in their affections by Cédric Klapisch.

D'un film à l'autre will open in Paris April 13, 2011. This date marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Films 13, Lelouch's company. It was seen and reviewed as part of the March 3-13, 2011 New York series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance and shown at the Walter Reade Theater uptown, the IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.

Film trailer.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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