Films in Review: Reflections on the last film of Jean-Pierre Melville

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Un Flic (1972)

Reviewed by – Tim Cogshell

Jean-Pierre Melville’s last film, Un Flic / A Cop (1972), is a late noir classic that features all the central trappings of the genre along with — what was then — a modern sensibility about the nature of who, ostensibly, are supposed to be the good guys. Perhaps it goes without saying they’re not much different than the bad guys; even so, as is the case in many Melville films, good guys and bad guys are mirrors of each other, the same yet different. Add to that several daring high-stakes criminal enterprises and, of course, a femme fatale (played beautifully by the beautiful Catherine Deneuve), and you’ve got a film that, while not the masterpiece of Melville’s canon, would have been so for most other filmmakers.

Despite its title, Un Flic is as much about a very cool criminal, played by a pre-Rambo Richard Crenna, as it is about a very cool cop — Alain Delon, more than a decade after Purple Noon and still striking as a presence on screen. They are both friends and at odds with one another in more ways than even their characters know. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition of male ego and camaraderie in — what was then — an intense, taut film filled with Rififian heist sequences and crisp philosophical dialogue to the bitter end. In fact, the end is wonderfully bitter.

Yes, in present-day terms Un Flic is languid in editorial construction, its contemplative performances are mannered, and its easy macho-chauvinism might grate contemporary feminist audiences. The artifacts of the time notwithstanding, it’s all still really cool, right down to the trench coats and fedoras.

But as mentioned earlier, the film’s title has always been deceiving. Indeed, we spend a good deal more time with the criminal than we do with the cop. From the bank heist that opens Un Flic through any number of encounters, Richard Crenna’s nightclub owner / heist master is as psychologically complex and physically present as Alain Delon’s cynical Commissaire. (Of note: Crenna’s French dialogue is dubbed, though he spoke French throughout his performance.)

Femme fatale Catherine Deneuve

And there’s the girl at the center of it all. Catherine Deneuve’s femme fatale stands apart from the typical cynical sirens of film noir. Deneuve’s character has a heart; it’s just not a faithful heart. She’s aloof and manipulative, yet inviting and pliable — and ultimately deadly.

Fans of Hill Street Blues should look for the ineffable Michael Conrad, an imposing figure whose intelligent eyes belied his menacing physique.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s influence

Jean-Pierre Melville died in 1973 at the age of 57. His work has influenced the films of Nicolas Winding Refn, Mika and Aki Kaurismäki, Joel and Ethan Coen,Martin Scorsese, Walter Hill, Michael Mann, and Quentin Tarantino, to name a few. A most notable Melville film, Bob le flambeur (1956), was remade by director Neil Jordan as The Good Thief (2002) with Nick Nolte. It too is remarkably good.

Un Flic at the Nuart

Un Flic has been reissued and is playing at the Nuart Theater in West Los Angeles for a week, before finding its way to the better cinephile collections. It’s certainly a must-see (and must-own) for Jean-Pierre Melville aficionados, not to mention fans of a good noir morality tale.

Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Un Flic photo: Rialto.

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Tim is Critic At Large for The Alt-Film Guide (www.alfg.com) and 20 years of his reviews are archived at:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/tim-cogshell/

New JD Salinger documentary set to reveal… something

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New JD Salinger documentary set to reveal… something

…or maybe not. The film is called Salinger and information about it is nearly as hard to come by as an interview with the reclusive The Catcher in the Rye author himself. There is trailer floating around, but that’s hard to find, too. This is a very nice piece courtesy of The Guardian/The Observer, May 18, 2013.

JD Salinger documentary released after nine years in production

Photograph: AP

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/may/18/jd-salinger-secret-life-exposed-documentary

Review: The East

The East:Thriller marred by unbridled earnestness

Film review by Tim Cogshell

Brit Marling in The East

Brit Marling in The East

The East is a didactic polemic couched in a mediocre thriller that takes itself far too seriously to be taken seriously. That isn’t to say the concerns of The East‘s young filmmakers — director / co-screenwriter Zal Batmanglij and leading lady / co-screenwriter Brit Marling (also a producer along with, among others, Tony Scott and Ridley Scott) — aren’t earnest. To the best that can be discerned, Batmanglij and Marling seem to genuinely care about our society and its ever-diminishing corporate values.

In fact, the charge brought by The East‘s characters seems to be the charge brought by its filmmakers: The powers-that-be poison our food and water, and destroy our land and the livelihoods of myriad communities. They will kill, however slowly, with a drip of cancer-causing chemicals literally leached bit by bit into our environment, all for short-term profit and with little concern for anything else.

Unfortunately, it’s the very earnestness of the filmmakers that’s the movie’s undoing. For this sort of polemic to work it must be couched not in a thriller but in a comedy, à la Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog, or even better, Jason Reitman’sThank You for SmokingThe East is not joking, but it should be.

The East film plot: Does the end justify the means?

The East‘s very serious protagonist, Sarah (Brit Marling), is a young former FBI agent recently employed by an elite private intelligence firm with an even more elite list of corporate clients. Sarah is assigned by the firm’s powerful chief executive (played with stunning efficiency by veteran Patricia Clarkson) to infiltrate an eco-terrorist organization called The East.

Now, they may explain in the film why the clandestine group is named The East, but I didn’t catch it. Whatever the reason, it’s sure to be a clever reference to some ancient text or philosophical tome that really smart kids learn in private schools of the sort the kids in The East (and its filmmakers) attended — and we are duly impressed.

Back to The East‘s key plot points: Soon, Sarah is hopping trains and pretending to eat food from dumpsters to establish her “cred” as she attempts to suss out some path to The East. By happenstance, she stands up for a possibly gay kid and gets punched by a “railroad bull” for her humanity. What luck! He is a member of The East.

Before long, Sarah is among them — a group that includes Izzy (Ellen Page doing her best Ellen Page), Benji (played by the son of Stellan Skarsgård, whose name is Alexander Skarsgård, but whom I prefer to call The Son of Stellan Skarsgård), and other characters played by a number of lovely and inconsequential young actors.

The Son of Stellan Skarsgård is all done up like Jesus (or David Koresh or any number of charismatic cult leaders, for that matter) and eventually we find ourselves at a rustic dinner table with fake Jesus at its head in a pastiche that looks far too much like The Last Supper to be an accident. At that point, the players enact a ritual meant to illustrate the nature of our selfishness. All this piety and faithfulness to the cause of righteousness is enough to make a less pious individual feel like killing everybody at the table, including Fake Jesus and Sarah, with whom you know Stellan Skarsgård’s boy is gonna definitely make it before the credits roll.

[“Movie Review: Brit Marling in The East” continues on the next page. See link below.]

Brit Marling The East photo: Fox Searchlight.

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Tim is Critic At Large for The Alt-Film Guide (www.alfg.com) and 20 years of his reviews are archived at:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/tim-cogshell/