Considering "Mademoiselle" is a Tony Richardson film starring Jeanne… MoreConsidering "Mademoiselle" is a Tony Richardson film starring Jeanne Moreau in her iconic prime, this is a strangely forgotten project. Why it is buried? Well, it's in black and white, and its countryside scenes are begging to be shot in color. It also has some distasteful animal cruelty and an understated ending that defies mainstream expectations. And perhaps it's somewhat disorienting seeing a French-language film shot by a director whose other early works ("Look Back in Anger," "A Taste of Honey," "Tom Jones," "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner) tended to be so intensely British in theme. In any case, "Mademoiselle" shouldn't be overlooked. Moreau plays the title character, a sexually repressed schoolteacher in a small, poor French village. For mysterious reasons, she is secretly setting fires, causing floods and committing other heinous crimes against her community. But her prejudiced neighbors instead suspect Manou (Ettore Manni), a Italian woodsman temporarily laboring in the nearby forest. His son Bruno (Keith Skinner) is equally disdained and even draws unfair abuse from "Mademoiselle" (her proper name is never given) during class. As the poor town's outrage grows, we come to understand Mademoiselle's twisted motive. Moreau was brilliant in these stone-faced, enigmatic roles, and this disturbing drama is another gem on her resumé.
Today, this German obscurity is best known for its musical score, one… MoreToday, this German obscurity is best known for its musical score, one of the late Brian Jones' few projects outside the Rolling Stones. It's a solid piece of work, not so bluesy and perhaps resembling "Ruby Tuesday" in a more rocking mode. Plenty of piano and harmonica, and Jimmy Page (then a hot session player) is rumored to add guitar. As for the film itself, Anita Pallenberg (who apparently enjoyed relationships with all or most of the Stones during this era) stars as as a free-spirit waitress who accidentally shoots and kills her boyfriend during an argument. The rest of the film follows her erratically trying to dispose of the corpse. She picks up a young man (Hans Peter Hallwachs, who's still acting today) to give her some muscle, and he eventually calls upon one of his friends (Manfred Fischbeck) to help. How to secretly transfer the body to the car, and where should the poor lad be buried? There's not much more plot than this, and even a mere 87 minutes seems more time than the story deserves. "A Degree of Murder" was the second feature of Volker Schlondorff ("The Tin Drum," "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum"), but the director's hand is not so visible beyond some rather awkward mind's-eye flashbacks. Mostly, you'll just enjoy ogling Pallenberg and trying to decipher her thick accent.
At last, a film for people who found "Eraserhead" too commercial. This… MoreAt last, a film for people who found "Eraserhead" too commercial. This underground horror relic starts with a twitching God figure disemboweling himself and giving birth to a full-grown woman (credited as "Mother Earth"). She returns the favor by bringing him to orgasm and manually impregnating herself with his semen. From there, the story takes a strange turn. Features include abduction, rape and various ritualistic activities that defy interpretation. The plot has been described as a retelling of the creation myth, but trying to follow a linear story is purely optional. Suffice to say, this a great movie if you're a fan of convulsions. There is no dialogue, and the soundtrack is an alien mix of birds, crickets, flies, low drones and what sounds like the ambient splashes of a toilet tank.
The visual look of "Begotten" is impossible to forget. Its gritty, black-and-white texture was apparently created through shooting with reversal stock and then re-photographing each frame for an extra layer of distortion. Often, it's difficult to tell what is happening and the image approaches pure abstraction. It's a relief that this film is only 78 minutes, because further length would defy almost anyone's endurance. Surprisingly, director E. Elias Merhige went on to craft the considerably more accessible (if equally macabre) "Shadow of the Vampire."
Nick Park's characterizations and claymation skills remain a marvel,… MoreNick Park's characterizations and claymation skills remain a marvel, but two flaws of this tale of baked goods and murder ate at me. First, the story is too focused on violence to be fun. Second, in a surreal world where Gromit behaves as a human being (albeit a mute one), the second dog Fluffles walks an uneasy line between being Gromit-like and being 'just a dog." Her traits don't seem internally consistent, and she fails to be a convincing peer for Gromit.
The best laugh: the image of bread loaves swelling suggestively as Wallace's and Piella's flirtation blooms elsewhere.