Film Club: Rififi (1955)

Written by Auguste Le Breton (original novel and screenplay collaboration) Jules Dassin and René Wheeler

Directed by Jules Dassin

Cast

 

Jean Servais…                    Tony le Stéphanois

Carl Möhner…                   Jo le Suedois

Robert Manuel…              Mario Ferrati

Janine Darcey…                 Louise

Questions

  • What do you think of the infamous thirty-two minute long ‘heist’ scene? Is the decision not to include dialogue or music an effective one? Why? How does it compare to heist scenes in more recent and commercial films such as Snatch, Ocean’s Eleven, Inception? Why do you think it is placed roughly halfway through the film rather than at its conclusion?
  • How much of the film would you say now feels outdated? How much does the film suffer from cliché? Is this the fault of the filmmakers or because films which have followed afterwards have borrowed from it?
  • What does this film have to say about the subject of morality? Does it have a moral message? How are we supposed to feel about the film’s criminal leads?
  • What did you think of the film’s treatment of its female characters? Do what extent is this film sexist or misogynistic?
  • What elements of the film make it ‘noir’?
  • To what is extent is the setting of Paris in the 1950s also a character in the film?

Trivia

‘Rififi’ refers to a ‘macho’ style of brutal violence perpetrated by criminals and thugs.

How central is the violence and ‘rififi’ to this movie? Is it offensive?

Film Club: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) Written and Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

Cast

Sheila Vand…                     The Girl

Arash Marandi…               Arash

Marshall Manesh…          Hossein (The Junkie)

Mozhan Marnὸ…             Atti (The Prostitute)

Dominic Rains…                 Saeed (The Pimp)

Rome Shandanloo…        Shaydah (The Princess)

Masuka…                             Masuka (The Cat)

 

Questions

  •  Why do you think the decision was made to name a lot of the characters as archetypal figures, for example ‘The Girl’ or ‘The Cat’? Likewise, what about the decision to set the story in a place known only as Bad City? Is there perhaps a fairy tale or fable quality to this story?
  • How does this fit into the canon of other vampire stories? Consider the fact that the word ‘vampire’ is never even mentioned.
  • The film was made in California, but how does the strong Middle Eastern influence change the way we watch the film? How does the setting relate to Western ideas of vampires as ‘exotic’ and ‘other worldly’? How about the political and gender political context of the film?
  • What do you think of the ‘relationship’ which is formed during the course of the film? How do we know they are in a ‘relationship’?
  • What did you think about the (slow) pacing of the film?
  • What did you think about the soundtrack and use of music and references to musical culture throughout?
  • How much of this film is ambiguous? Do you enjoy ambiguity in a film?
  • How attractive was the film to look at (cinematography)? Why do you think the film was made in black and white?

 

Trivia

 A series of graphic novels have been produced to accompany this film.

In what way does the film remind you of a graphic novel? How does it compare to other films with a similar visual style?

Anomalisa (2015)

Written by Charlie Kaufman, Directed by Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman

Cast

David Thewlis…                 Michael Stone

Jennifer Jason Leigh…    Lisa Hesselman

Tim Noonan…                    Everyone else

 

Questions

This was originally written as a ‘sound play’ and was later adapted for the visual medium. What is the role of sound and voice in this film? Are the accompanying visuals fitting and successful?

  • Why was it important to make this film with stop-motion animation rather than flesh and blood actors? What do you feel about this style of animation? Is this a beautiful film?
  • What about the voice casting decisions? Assess the performances of Thewlis and Leigh, as well as the decision to have Tim Noonan voice every other character.
  • How would you sum up the ‘atmosphere’ created by Kaufman in one word only?
  • What do we want from a film? Do we need to feel good and the end to feel we’ve had a worthwhile cinematic experience?
  • Why do you think Kaufman chose to set this story in a hotel?
  • To what extent did some of the sexual elements in the film jar with the fact that it was an animation?
  • A quotation from the main character, “Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.” To what extent do you think this is true of Anomalisa? Is it a film without a lesson?
  • How would you compare this film to Lost in Translation?

Trivia

 The hotel where Michael stays is called the Fregoli. The ‘Fregoli delusion’ is when someone believes different people are all actually the same person in disguise. How does this relate to Michael’s state of mind? Is this what he believes is happening?

Film Club: Send Me No Flowers (1964)

Based on a play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore, Screenplay by Julius Epstein

Directed by Norman Jewison

Cast

 

Rock Hudson…                  George Pemberton Kimball

Doris Day…                          Judy Kimball

Tony Randall…                   Arnold Nash

Paul Lynde…                       Mr Atkins

Edward Andrews…          Dr Ralph Morrissey

 

Questions

 

  • Which character did you enjoy watching the most and why? To what extent did you ‘like’ George, our main character? Is this important?
  • To what extent are the 1960s negative stereotypes in the film offensive? To what extent are they funny? Consider presentation of: women, homosexuals, hypochondriacs, alcoholics…
  • Compare the gender politics of the film with other movies made in 1964, for example Goldfinger, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady and Straight Jacket. What are the different perceptions of women being represented?
  • Which elements of the film did you find funny and why? How does it compare to 1964’s iconic ‘Dr Strangelove’ in terms of comedic style?
  • This film was originally a play. Is this apparent?
  • Apparent, Rock Hudson did not like this movie, feeling that the film’s morbid subject matter was in bad taste. Do you think it’s important for comedies to deal with taboo subjects? What examples can you think of where questions of taboo and taste have been well and truly pushed in recent times?
  • If you could change the ending, would you? What would be your alternate ending?

 

Trivia

 

Although Rock Hudson and Doris Day are often remembered as a famous double-act who made countless films together, this is actually their third and final movie outing. The actor Tony Randall (who played Arnold in Send me No Flowers) is also in all three. You may wish to compare this film with Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961). Both of these films also depict Hudson and Day in a fraught love/hate relationship, played for comedy value.

Film Club: Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Written by Nancy Oliver, Directed by Craig Gillespie

Cast

Ryan Gosling…                   Lars Lindstrom

Emily Mortimer…             Karin

Paul Schneider…               Gus

R.D. Reid…                          Reverend Bock

Kelli Garner…                     Margo

Patricia Clarkson…            Dagmar (Bianca and Lars’ doctor)

 

Questions

  •  Is this film a love story? What types of love do we encounter is this film?
  • Does this film fit easily into a specific genre? How does it fit into the context of ‘quirky’ comedies? Is this film funny? If so, does the comedy come from the ‘cringe’ factor, the shock factor, out of sympathy/pathos or from somewhere else?
  • How does this film deal with the issues surrounding ‘growing up’? Think about invisible friends, comfort blankets/teddies, playing pretend. Consider the fact that Gosling apparently improvised the teddy CPR scene… would the film lose something without this?
  • How would this situation be dealt with in ‘real’ life? To what extent is the audience being asked to suspend their disbelief? Think about the representation of a small town community and the Church (not to mention medical bills.)
  • Consider representation of gender politics, sex and sexuality. Does any part of us condemn Lars’ purchase?
  • How much does the success of the film rely on the strength of Ryan Gosling’s performance?
  • How do we deal with mental health issues? If someone is happy and they are not hurting anyone else, is their mental health issue a ‘problem’?
  • Just for fun – Discuss the variety of sweaters worn by Lars and Margo.

 

Trivia

 Listen out for Ryan Gosling’s weird and wonderful singing voice. For more of this, check out the Dead Man’s Bones self-titled album. It’s perfect for Halloween.

Gene Wilder

I’m going to jump straight in.

Gene Wilder was a gentle genius. His name has been thrown around so many times over the last few days, to recount so many unforgettable standout performances – and rightly so. In the same spirit, here’s my chronological whistle-stop tour through some of his greatest films and memorable moments.

Wilder often portrayed tightly wound characters who were forever on the verge of being pushed over the edge. As Leo Bloom in The Producers (1967, his first film under director and friend Mel Brooks), Wilder played an anxious accountant who was just about as highly strung as is humanly possible. In my favourite scene, producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) makes Bloom feel decidedly uneasy. Bloom’s hysteria begins to escalate; his mop of curls bouncing around; his eyes blazing with frantic intensity, until you think Wilder can go no further with his performance and… he takes it even further. Finally, Bloom is laying on the floor with Max standing over him and he shrieks, “you’re gonna jump on me, I know you’re gonna jump on me – like Nero jumped on Poppaea… Up and down, up and down, until he squashed her like a bug. Please don’t jump on me!” In a moment of total and utter comic commitment, this gives way to screams and exclamations of hyperventilating panic. Also endearing and comic in equal turn is Bloom’s attachment to his blue blanket he had as a baby – “My blanket! My blue blanket! Give me my blue blanket!” making him neurotic and enchantingly vulnerable in equal measure.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) is probably the film that Wilder has become best known for, it’s certainly repeated on television often enough every school holiday! Wilder’s Wonka is often remembered as family friendly, charming and twinkling-eyed, but the character is more complex than that. Apparently, Wilder insisted on the inclusion of the ‘fall’ in the scene where Wonka is first introduced to the audience. He emerges from the chocolate factory looking infirm and unsure, holding tightly to his walking stick, then realises he has lost it and tumbles forward into a somersault. This is a perfect way to introduce such an enigmatic character, showcasing the dark, deceptive elements of his personality and a slightly sick sense of humour. Later, Wonka is shown to have no discernible remorse for what happens to any of the naughty children.

The other stand-out scene is where Wonka is riding on the chocolate river with the children and their adult entourage. As they go through the tunnel, things start to get a little weird, “Are the fires of hell a -glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? Yes! The danger must be growing!” Soon the boat is hurtling out of control, Wilder’s face is illuminated by flashes of red light; his crazed eyes wide; clumps of hair escaping from the top hat of a truly terrifying Wonka. Take that, Johnny Depp.

Now I’ve seen The World’s Greatest Lover (1977) and it wasn’t all that. There’s a great little scene where Rudy (Wilder) and his wife Annie (Carol Kane) have ‘sex by numbers’, but aside from that, it doesn’t quite live up to its title. No, no – the film in which Wilder really does demonstrate himself to be the world’s greatest lover is, of course, Woody Allen’s Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask (1972.)

The length and content of Wilder’s silent reaction when, as Doctor Ross, he is told by his patient, “I am in love with a sheep” is outstanding. When Doctor Ross meets Daisy the sheep for the first time he tries to resist her charms, but ends up giving her longer and more lingering looks, stroking her face, his voice softening, running his hands along her shapely sides – it’s as convincing a performance of love-at-first-sight as you would find anywhere. There follows a terrific montage where we are shown Doctor Ross tenderly caressing Daisy as they conduct an extra marital affair; Ross getting questioned by his wife for getting caught fondling his lamb’s wool sweater; Ross and Daisy meeting in a hotel room and Ross presenting Daisy with a necklace and tying it around her neck. It’s Wilder’s full committal to this concept that makes it funny.

Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks again) first introduces Wilder’s character as an unshaven drunken wash-up, Jim, once known as the Wako Kid. He recounts how, due to his reputation as the fastest gunman in the West, everyone wanted to challenge him to a quick draw. Jim explains that it all went wrong for him when a six year old challenged him, “I just threw my guns down and walked away. Little bastard shot me in the ass!” The wonderful comic turn between those two lines, the first half delivered with matter-of-fact resignation, the second half with outrage, is what makes it. Once Jim has sobered up, his becomes more of a ‘straight’ role, quietly smiling as the action unwinds, almost achieving cowboy coolness in his black shirt and Stetson.

Wilder then worked again with Brooks, only this time Young Frankenstein (1974) was Wilder’s story and Wilder’s screenplay. The stand-out scene is obviously the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” song and dance sequence. Doctor Frederick Frankenstein feels that he has tamed his monster and to prove his full mastery of the creature, he performs on stage with him in full top hat, white tie and tails. Wilder had to fight Mel Brooks to keep this scene and it certainly breaks the mood established throughout of an old-fashioned Universal horror picture, but it is this total incongruous stupidity which makes the sequence so beautifully perfect. The laugh out loud moment for me is when Frankenstein puts his hands on his monster’s shoulders and mouths “I love him” to his stunned audience, before giving him an affectionate knock on the jaw.

It’s another ‘reaction’ shot which gets my second favourite moment in Young Frankenstein. Over breakfast, Doctor Frankenstein explains the large proportions of his monster to his assistant Inga, (Terri Garr) and she remarks, “He would have an enormous schwanzstucker!” Wilder stops chewing, his eyes shift and his brows rise, before he calmly says, with his mouth full, “Well… that goes without saying.”

Another film for which Wilder wrote the screenplay was See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). He co-stars in this film which Richard Prior, in which they play an on-the-wrong-side-of-the-law odd-couple, something which they do several times together in other films. In See No Evil… Wilder plays Dave, a man who is deaf and Prior plays Wally, a man who is blind. Nothing encapsulates the working relationship between Wilder and Prior better than the scene in which Dave and Wally get into a barroom brawl and must co-operate with one another in order to participate in the fight. I also enjoy the dead pan delivery when Dave has incorrectly lip-read a frustrated police officer and reprimands himself, “Yeh, why would she say ‘ship, ship, ship, ship!’ It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Alice in Wonderland (1999) is an underrated TV movie version of the classic tale, in which Wilder plays the mock-turtle. This is one of Wilder’s last performances in a film. Throughout his scene, which contains two musical numbers, Wilder delivers his role with a soft smile and a shine in his eyes, as if the mock-turtle is unsure whether to laugh or cry.

The frame story of this version of the tale involves Alice running away from a party her parents are holding because she is scared to stand up and perform in front of them. This scene, featuring the mock-turtle and the griffin (a Jim Henson creation voiced by Donald Sinden) is crucial in helping Alice to overcome her stage fright. At first, they explain how to dance a Lobster Quadrille “They are waiting on the shingle, will you come and join the dance?” and Wilder engages in a little dance of his own. Then comes “Beautiful Soup” in which the mock-turtle encourages Alice to sing with him. The song is simple, but the delivery is haunting. Wilder performs both lovely songs with his usual dedication, only too pleased to look a little silly dressed in a turtle shell.

This will undoubtedly sound corny, but I can’t think of a better role to finish on. Wilder, a shy man who was nevertheless a fantastic performer, playing a mock-turtle, who comes out of his shell in order to encourage the younger generation to do the same. That’s a pretty good legacy.