Film Suggestions

Netflixed: Bob Le Flambeur

“Bob le Flambeur – Criterion Collection” (Criterion)

[Netflix page]

A Criterion Collection release of a 1955 Jean-Pierre Melville movie, this one I rented on the strength of Touchez Pas au Grisbi some time ago [Netflix page] (and the magic of the Netflix suggestion engine)

The plot to the Bob Le Flambeur1 could be explained in ten lines2, but that isn’t really the point of the film. Ambiance is. The ambiance of French cafés and nightclubs, jazz, neon signs, glistening streets, characters who go to sleep at 6 AM, and arise by noon, casual sex, gambling, and gamblers, and male friendship. You get the idea. Certainly worth looking for if you haven’t seen it before, and worth a re-watch if you have.

Roger Ebert reviewed Bob le Flambeur as part of his “Great Movies” series:

Before the New Wave, before Godard and Truffaut and Chabrol, before Belmondo flicked the cigarette into his mouth in one smooth motion and walked the streets of Paris like a Hollywood gangster, there was Bob. “Bob le Flambeur,” Bob the high-roller, Bob the Montmartre legend whose style was so cool, whose honor was so strong, whose gambling was so hopeless, that even the cops liked him. Bob with his white hair slicked back, with his black suit and tie, his trenchcoat and his Packard convertible and his penthouse apartment with the slot machine in the closet. Bob, who on the first day of this movie wins big at the races and then loses it all at roulette, and is cleaned out. Broke again.

Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Bob le Flambeur” (1955) has a good claim to be the first film of the French New Wave. Daniel Cauchy, who stars in it as Paolo, Bob’s callow young friend, remembered that Melville would shoot scenes on location using a handheld camera on a delivery bike, “which Godard did in ‘Breathless,’ but this was years before Godard.” Melville worked on poverty row, and told his actors there was no money to pay them, but that they would have to stand by to shoot on a moment’s notice. “Right now I have money for three or four days,” he told Cauchy, “and after that we’ll shoot when we can.”

This film was legendary but unseen for years, and Melville’s career is only now coming into focus. He shot gangster movies, he worked in genres, but he had such a precise, elegant simplicity of style that his films play like the chamber music of crime. He was cool in the 1950s sense of that word. His characters in “Bob” glide through gambling dens and nightclubs “in those moments,” Melville tells us in the narration, “between night and day … between heaven and hell.”

[From Bob le Flambeur :: :: Great Movies]

and offers this brief bio of the director:

Melville (1917-1973) was born Grumberg. He changed his name in admiration for the author of Moby Dick. He was a lover of all things American. He went endlessly to American movies, he visited America, he shot a film in New York (“Two Men in Manhattan”), and Cauchy remembers, “He drove an American car and wore an American hat and Ray-Bans, and he always had the Armed Forces Network on his car radio, listening to Glenn Miller.” He inhaled American gangster films, but when he made his own, they were not copies of Hollywood but were infused by understatement, a sense of cool; his characters need few words because so much goes without saying, especially when it comes to what must be done, and how it must be done, and why it must be done that way.

One unrelated note, I wish Netflix compiled a list of all the Criterion Collection films they offer. I did suggest it to a Netflix staffer years ago, but they haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. There are user-generated versions, but these are decidedly less useful.

  1. Flamber (verb, French): To wager not only the money you have, but the money you don’t have. []
  2. as Daniel Cauchy exclaims in an included interview []
Film Suggestions

Netflixed: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Julian Schnabel)

Another film based on a book, though a true story this time.

In 1995, author and Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a stroke that put him in a coma; he awakened mute and completely paralyzed. Mathieu Amalric stars in this adaptation of Bauby’s autobiography, which he dictated by blinking. Julian Schnabel was nominated for the 2008 Best Director Oscar and won the Golden Globe in the same category for his poignant film about the strength of the human spirit.

[From Netflix: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly]

A powerful film. Not sure if it was the late night viewing, or other maudlin reasons, but was immensely engrossed by this film. A meditation of life, and death, family relations, and the wheel of samsara. Well, not really the rebirth thing, more a ‘life flashing before one’s eyes right before death‘, expanded over a years time, with one of the eye being sewn shut. I had hesitated viewing the movie, since the premise is a bit unnerving (and a real fear of mine – such a horrible thought to be cognizant, 42 years old, trapped in a body that no longer functions), yet couldn’t stop once I started. Innovative cinematically: the Point of View is nearly always through the blinking eye of the narrator (which some exceptions later on).

The director, Julian Schnabel, who also directed Basquiat, filmed on location in Calais, France, using several actual hospital employees, and the movie is better for those choices. Seems authentic, non-Hollywood, as a result.

Johnny Depp chose to be in the dreck, Pirates of the Caribbean, instead of in the Diving Bell, his loss, as one film will be played for years, and one cartoon movie will just make Disney a lot of money. Mathieu Amalric was wonderful in the role, emoting without moving his face muscles at all. Max von Sydow was also magnificent as the dying father of Jean-Do.

From the book jacket:

We’ve all got our idiosyncrasies when it comes to writing–a special chair we have to sit in, a certain kind of yellow paper we absolutely must use. To create this tremendously affecting memoir, Jean-Dominique Bauby used the only tool available to him–his left eye–with which he blinked out its short chapters, letter by letter. Two years ago, Bauby, then the 43-year-old editor-in-chief of Elle France, suffered a rare stroke to the brain stem; only his left eye and brain escaped damage. Rather than accept his “locked in” situation as a kind of death, Bauby ignited a fire of the imagination under himself and lived his last days–he died two days after the French publication of this slim volume–spiritually unfettered. In these pages Bauby journeys to exotic places he has and has not been, serving himself delectable gourmet meals along the way (surprise: everything’s ripe and nothing burns). In the simplest of terms he describes how it feels to see reflected in a window “the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde.