La Grand Illusion

Set during World War I is tells the story of two French Aviators, their capture and subsequent confinement and escape. This film is as much about class and background as it is about war. Indeed one could argue that the war is only a vehicle to carry the story of class difference and how it impacts on the lives of all those concerned. It was directed by the great Jean Renoir (Madame Bovary, 1934) who co-wrote it with Charles Spaak (Justice is Done, 1950). Centred around our two heroes the two aviators; Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay, The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934) the aristocrat of the pair and his working-class lieutenant, Maréchal (Jean Gabin, Le Jour se Leve, 1939). Having gone out to further photograph a site which they filmed on a previous flight (but was too blurred to be of use) our aviators are shot down. As it turns out they are downed by a German aristocrat, a one Captain von Rauffenstein (Eric von Stroheim, Sunset Blvd. 1950). In the earlier part of the war the aviators saw themselves as the last of the gallant military and often observed social niceties across the divide, as in this case. After shooting them down, von Rauffenstein has the two men found and brought to him, where they are invited to be his guests. During the course of the dinner it is realised that von Rauffenstein and Boeldieu actually have mutual acquaintances, reflecting the nature of the trans-national lives European aristocrats often lead.

The two aviators are subsequently sent to a POW camp where they fall-in with a number of fellow prisoners. During their incarceration here we see how Maréchal is given solitary confinement as a result of a commotion; we also see how badly it affects him. Out with the main population the two are fully involved in escape attempts, which ultimately come to nothing as the prisoners are transferred and Maréchal cannot let the English prisoners know of a escape tunnel due to his lack of language.

Transferred to various camps they arrive at Wintersborn, a camp under the command of the now injured and promoted von Rauffenstein. Once again escape is on their minds and along with the rich aristocratic Jew Le Lieutenant Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio Donovan’s Reef, 1963) who they know from their previous camp, they plot to escape. As part of the escape Boeldieu climbs to a highpoint and gets the guards attention. His fellow aristocrat, von Rauffenstein, stops the guards from shooting him and tries to get him down, meanwhile the other make a run for it and climb out/down using the usual home-made assortment of rope/cloth. Von Rauffenstein, aiming for Boeldieu’s legs shoots him in the stomach and fatally wounds him. While dying Boeldiue comments on their place in society and what might be the place for those such as them in the new post-war world.

Meanwhile the others escape through Germany on their way to Switzerland. On their way there they have their share of upsets and even separate, with Maréchal leaving the injured Rosenthal, only to return. They eventually take shelter in a small farmhouse owned by Elsa Parlo, (Dito Parlo, L’Atalnte, 1934), her husband and brothers have all been lost in the war, yet she helps them recover and treats them with kindness, even keeps them safe from her fellow Germans. Eventually leaving the two make their way to Switzerland, only to come under fire from a patrol as the approach the Swiss border, they escape.

We see from the connections such as with Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein that regardless of nationalities, society can, given the right environment function at a level which is unrelated to that of nation-states and indeed should make war obsolete due to the effects it could have on those of that class, the Grand Illusion. Renoir had a message here, clearly filmed against the rising tide of Nazism and fascism in Europe we look to see how Jewish and coloured characters are treated. We could analyses the movie from hindsight, rather we should watch it and perhaps ask what lessons do we still have to learn.

Much has been written about the decline of the aristocratic or ruling families of Europe after the war and the rise of a “new world order”, one where the common man and not the landed gentry would look to guide the world they lived in. Interestingly, only 20 years after the end of WWI Renoir had sufficiently clear a picture of this decline and change that he was able to write one of the best and earliest depictions of this changing Europe/world.

I’ve held off on mentioning a comparison to Kubrick’s Paths to Glory (1957). Again we see elements of the class struggle and the changing face of humanity brought on by the war. The other obvious comparison is All Quiet on the Western Front (based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque) directed by Lewis Milstone (1930) which focused on the physical and mental suffering of the ordinary soldier in the conflict. In deed it is quoted that one of the reasons Renoir made this film was because he felt no other movie, apart from All Quiet on the Western Front, sufficiently told the story of the ordinary soldier.

La Grande Illusion is as strong today as it was in 1937, perhaps even stronger for our failing to learn from it and other writings/productions form “ordinary people”

9/10

R100

A lot was made of the potential content of Fifty Shades of Grey ( I saw it and refuse to write a critique of the tripe), this movie, being Japanese does not concern itself with western tastes and just gets on with the film. Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ohmori, Ichi The Killer, 2001) is a husband and father struggling under the pressures of life. His wife is in a coma with no prospect of waking, he deals with this while bringing up their young son (Haruki Nishimoto), with the help from his own father-in-law (Gin Meada, Midsummer’s Equation, 2013). To release some of his own pressures he joins a Bondage club. This club is not like any other. On entering he is met by a lone man (Suzuki Matsuo, Otakus in Love, 2004) behind a desk (in a very seedy looking building interior) who introduces Takafumi to the club and its rules; all contact is outside, none in the actual club, at mutually agreed times. Membership is only for 1 year, contact is non-sexual. Through a series of flashbacks we see the various girls from the club (various Queens specialising in S&M/Bondage disciplines. He is forced to eat squashed sushi in a bar when one queen makes him eat it, another attacks him in the street, at a fountain etc. As the time goes on, the visits get darker and his home/family become involved. This is beyond the limit for him. He goes to the police to complain where he meets a very jaundiced police officer played by Hitoshi Matsumote who also directed the film (Saya-zamurai, 2010) who basically tells him that at this stage no laws have been broken. Things go down hill from there. Not long after a Queen visits him at home, ties him up and begins sensory torture on him. At this juncture the film take a very disturbing turn, Takefumi’s son witnesses events and in the next scene we see the boy tied up in rope, suspended from a ceiling and gagged with the bondage gag. Thing go south with the accidental death of another Queen (Queen Saliva..) With the help of a mysterious government agent who shows up (Atsuro Watabe, The Flowers of War, 2011) and helps with his son. Knowing that his son is safe he goes to his father-in-law’s home believing he is in danger form the group behind the Bondage Club. He is. Indeed things have gone so badly wrong as far as the club is concerned that their CEO flies in to deal with things. Before I describe the closing scenes, it is only right to say that this movie is so far “off-the-wall” that the director engineers breaks within the movie, we are not told what these are first and are left to wonder, it quickly becomes obvious by the second “break” that these are producers coming out of a screening of the movie and are in shock, they cannot understand some of the more strange aspects of the movie – This is an interesting vehicle as it shows the director is still in touch with the viewing public and this adds to the comedic nature of the film. The denouement is a battle scene at Takafumi’s father in law’s house (at this stage it should be pointed out that both his wife and father-in-law have been killed by a “Queen” who ate them (yes!). The CEO of “Bondage” (Lindsay Howard) having flown in an struck fear in to all involved now leads the attack on the house. The scene is at times a mix of “Monkey” (1978) special effects with an approach which (to my mind at least) is nothing short of an homage to the works of Akira Kurosawa, particularly reminding me of (Ran, 1985) . The culmination of this is a 1:1 fight (not shown) between Takafumi and the CEO, it turns out he might be more of a sadist than a masochist and as a result a new sadist is conceived in him – you can guess what that means. Allow yourself to accept the cultural differences and you will enjoy the film. An interesting aside which make the movie work on another level is that it is set in the 1980’s/90’s so no PCs, laptops, smart phones or neon all over the place. A challenging but quite good comedy which will not be for everybody. The title itself “R100” is a view on the Japanese movie rating system (R18 etc.) and indeed near the endone of the “producers” during a break explains to his boss that the fictional director (himself aged 100) sys you have to be 100 to understand the movie – which of course causes them to ask how many 100 year olds are there who would go see the movie . Entertaining, funny and very watchable, if you are able J

Big Eyes

I bought this movie a while ago and not looking too closely when I put it on over the weekend I had it in mind that it was a Coen brothers film, rather, it is courtesy of Tim Burton; either way we sat down expecting something a little different. We had to sit back and think when was the last live-action (relatively mainstream and not involving too many dead people) movie Burton made, it has been a while and all compare to what I consider an under-appreciated classic; Big Fish (2003).

The story is based on the life of the artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, 2013) who leaving a destructive marriage sets off to the San Francisco bay area where she tries to get by with the help of friends such as DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter, Search Party, 2014) selling her existing paintings and sketching people without much success. Then one day while she and her daughter were selling her work at a flea-market they are met by the charismatic Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz, Carnage 2011). Keane recognises a certain something in her works, while he essentially discards his own works of Parisian Street scenes. As their relationship develops he takes the opportunity to sell her work along-side his at a jazz club. By this stage they have married (rather quickly) As they are married, both sign their works “Keane” and pretty soon people start to take notice of the works, with the Big Eyes paintings selling at the expense of his.

Walter had always sold himself as an artist, who having had a career, gave it up and became an artist living in Paris, and so now his speciality is Parisian street scenes.

Rather than tell the world that they are his wife’s (“women’s work does not sell”) he passes them off as his own. When Margaret finds out about this she is not too happy but he convinces her to go along with it. As it happens Walter is a superb sales man and engineers the sales of her works (as his) . the works take off and to the world Amy does not paint, it is Walter. As the years progress and they become more successful, the pressure builds with Amy. What does not help is Walter’s engineering of sales and publicity opportunities ably assisted by his gossip-columnist friend Dick Nolan (Danny Huston, Masters of Sex, Dr. Douglas Greathouse, 2014) . Walter is a celebrity and uses his celebrity status to further advance the sales of their/his works. Amy eventually feeling the frustration starts to paint in a new style so that she can be seen in public as an artist, but these works are not as successful, partly because she is not as good a sales person.

As they progress with the big-eyes works, with the gallery and image licencing rights bringing in the money, the edges start to fray around Walter’s grand deception. He needs to bring out a coffee book, but for that he needs a back story. And so was born the fiction of the starving children in 1949 Berlin with their big sad eyes. His art is not without his detractors, none more so than John Canady (Terrance Stamp, Valkyrie, 2008) who has been a strident critic of the works form the start – they are not proper art in his view. This comes to a head when Walter promises a large work to the UN for their stand at the New York World’s Fair. This of course has to be painted by Margaret, much against her wishes. Just as his professional career is coming to a head so is his home life.

Canady, learning that the painting for the Un is about to be exhibited, gets a preview. Upon seeing the work he writes a critique of it which totally destroys it. The picture is later removed from view. Alongside this is Margaret’s growing unease at keeping her talent a secret from everybody, but then she makes a discovery – Walter has been faking even his own paintings for years, he has been buying landscapes from a particular artist in Paris for years, then painting his name over the original artist’s name, Margaret discovered a crate of the originals, that of course sparked the great reveal.

Having had enough, Margaret and daughter run away to Hawaii and begin to make a new life for themselves. Trying for a divorce Walter makes it clear that if she tried to divorce him on terms other than his own (he keeps the rights and she has to present him with 100 more paintings), he will reveal she was part of the fraud by letting him sell the paintings.

Finally having enough she sues Walter and his media supporters, arriving to court Walter is certain he is going to win, given his media company backing, however they quickly remove themselves once they are cleared of any defamation on their side. What follows is Walter’s attempt to use is show-boating to sway the court, the judge is having none of it and orders certain activities to determine who the real artist is…

A very engaging, funny and at time poignant movie, it is well worth watching and enjoying, and other reason why Tim Burton is in a class of his own. 8/10