Film noir delights in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema

"Another Dawn" will play Saturday night at the LA County Museum of Art.

“Another Dawn” will play Saturday night at the LA County Museum of Art.

I am greatly looking forward to seeing the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) exhibition and film program Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film.

Mexico was home to a vibrant, commercially stable film industry in the early 1930s through the 1950s. The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema series will explore Figueroa’s contributions as a groundbreaking cinematographer, a master of light and contrast.

Figueroa spent time on the set of Soviet master Sergei Eisenstein’s “¡Que Viva México!,” had an apprenticeship with Hollywood cinematographer Gregg Toland, and was friends with painters such as Diego Rivera. (The series is co-presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.)

"Autumn Days" will screen first on Saturday.

“Autumn Days” will screen first on Saturday night.

This weekend, two film noir delights are screening: “Dias de Otoño” (Autumn Days, 1963, Roberto Gavaldón) and “Distinto Amanecer” (Another Dawn, 1941, Julio Bracho). You can read the museum’s synopses here.

Upcoming film series will highlight Figueroa’s work with Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, the Hollywood films that the cinematographer shot over his 50-year career for directors such as John Huston and John Ford, the films of the early 1930s that spurred Figueroa, and contemporary Mexican filmmakers whose work invokes Figueroa’s legacy.

Meanwhile, the New York Film Festival opened today with “Captain Phillips.” Manohla Dargis of the New York Times gives her assessment here.

 

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Film Noir File: Deneuve, Buñuel cast spell with ‘Belle de Jour’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK: Two by Luis Buñuel as part of Catherine Deneuve Day

Tristana” (1970, Luis Buñuel). Monday, Aug. 12, 10 p.m., (7 p.m.).

Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Buñuel ). Monday, Aug. 12, 2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.).

Icy, ravishing Catherine Deneuve stars in “Belle de Jour.”

The most beautiful movie actress alive paired with the most brilliantly rebellious filmmaker.

That was the incendiary match-up of star Catherine Deneuve and director Luis Buñuel – who were most famous for their 1967 French erotic drama “Belle de Jour.” In that great film, Deneuve – so lovely and so classically, radiantly, sexily blonde that she took up residence in male dreams forever – played Severine, a Parisian wife, who becomes a prostitute during the day to escape her boring bourgeois life and her handsome but boring husband (Jean Sorel). Severine then falls into a world of crime, hypocrisy, dreamlike perversity and peril. It was the most popular, and the best-remembered, film of Buñuel’s entire career.

But they made another film that Buñuel preferred and is one of his most personal: “Tristana (1970). Shot in Spain, based on a novella by famed author Benito Perez Galdos (adapted by Buñuel and Julio Alejandro), this not underrated but definitely underseen film starred Deneuve in a role just as alluring and frightening as the wayward Severine: Tristana, the young orphan seduced, exploited and virtually imprisoned by her guardian Don Lope (Fernando Rey). Don Lope, worldly and egocentric, is an aristocrat of radical political beliefs, whose desire for his ward undermines his ethics – even as Tristana, a seeming victim, turns exploiter herself and exacts a terrible revenge.

“Tristana” earned the admiration of Alfred Hitchcock.

“Tristana” is a masterpiece, but it’s also a grimmer, sadder, more psychologically disturbing picture than “Belle de Jour.” Buñuel, notorious for his audacity, has directed some of the cruelest scenes in cinema, in films like “Un Chien Andalou,” “Los Olvidados” and “Viridiana.“ But he never filmed a more wounding scene than Tristana on the balcony: a sequence that delighted no less an epicure of sadism than Alfred Hitchcock. “Tristana! That leg! That leg!” Hitch exclaimed when the two directors met at a party. Buñuel probably only smiled.

Other Deneuve Day highlights include: “Repulsion” (1965, Roman Polanski), “Mississippi Mermaid” (1969, François Truffaut) and “Un Flic” (1972, Jean-Pierre Melville). See TCM for the full list. Films are in French (“Tristana” in Spanish) with English subtitles. [Read more...]

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Carax’s noir dream carries us into the maddest of reveries

Holy Motors/2012/Indomina Releasing/116 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Behind “Holy Motors” – the strange, perverse and entertaining neo-noir film by Léos Carax – lies a near century of movie surrealism: of deliberately fantastic, illogical and sometimes pathological filmmaking in which the cineaste (whether it’s Luis Bunuel or Jean Cocteau or Maya Deren or Carax) tries to dream on screen and carry us into the maddest of reveries.

Here the reveries are mad indeed. A man and a dog wake up in a strange room with a door that opens into a theater showing a silent film. (Something by a Cocteau or a Bunuel?) The day is just beginning. For the rest of the film, we will follow the (apparently) workday rounds of a traveling player named M. Oscar played by the defiantly sullen and unsmiling anti-star and Carax regular Denis Lavant.

M. Oscar is driven around in a silver limousine by a chauffeur named Celine, played by Edith Scob, the actress who played the faceless girl in Georges Franju’s 1960 horror-fantasy classic “Eyes Without a Face.” As Celine takes him all around Paris (at the behest of a mysterious agency represented at one point by Bunuel favorite Michel Piccoli), M. Oscar appears at various places and plays various roles.

M. Oscar impersonates a financier, an old beggar-woman, a motion-capture lover/dancer in a black unitard, a wild sewer-dwelling hooligan named M. Merde, a tense father of a teenage daughter, a hired killer and his victim, a dying old man, and the old lover of a heart-breaking chanteuse played and sung (to the hilt) by Kylie Minogue. At the end of the day, night has fallen, the actor returns home (to an exceedingly weird household) and the limo joins other cars housed in a garage.

“Holy Motors,” beautifully shot by Caroline Champetier and Yves Cape, is a crazy poem about art and actors and their relation to the world. It would make an interesting double feature with David Cronenberg’s somewhat poetic limo movie, “Cosmopolis,” to which Carax’s film’s is slightly superior. Narrative-bound moviegoers will no doubt be incensed at the sheer oddness of “Holy Motors.” Art-lovers (and lovers of French cinema, from the reveries of Georges Méliès and Louis Feuillade on) may be entranced.

Carax is somewhat different than most of the other cinematic mad dreamers. He manages to get producers to give him larger budgets. Not that often, it’s true. “Holy Motors” is his first feature since “Pola X” (1999), and that was his first since “The Lovers on the Bridge” (1991).

When he shows up, though, he’s usually admired. (In French, with subtitles.)

“Holy Motors,” opens today in LA at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre.

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New on DVD, Blu-ray: ‘Skin I Live in’ and ‘To Catch a Thief’

By Michael Wilmington

Antonio Banderas

The Skin I Live In (DVD)/2011/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/117 min.

Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish master of kink and perverse soap opera (“Matador,” “Law of Desire,” “Talk to Her”), here plunges into high Gothic melodrama, with Antonio Banderas as a wealthy and reclusive plastic surgeon, who becomes obsessed with implanting the features of his beautiful, beloved, dead wife on the face of a female prisoner (Elena Anaya) whom he keeps hidden away in his posh isolated home.

Also involved: a mysterious housekeeper who knows some dark secrets (Marisa Paredes) and a raunchy interloper in a tiger suit (Roberto Álamo).

Not for every taste of course – no Almodovar film is – but a good, creepy elegant old-school horror movie worthy of its obvious influences: Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face,” James Whale’s Frankenstein, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. And the reunion of Almodovar and star Banderas, is a felicitous one. At the very least, this film will give you a different slant on Banderas’ “Puss in Boots.” (In Spanish, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Documentary featurettes; Q&A with Almodovar

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Grant and Kelly: One of Hitchcock’s sexiest duos.

To Catch a Thief (Blu-ray)/1955/Paramount/106 min.

Cary Grant is a Riviera cat burglar, framed by another mysterious thief and chased by both the local gendarmerie and his old pals in the Resistance. Grace Kelly is a rich, gorgeous vacationer who can really get those fireworks and colored lights going.

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most purely entertaining movies, beautifully shot in Cannes and surrounding locations, with Grant and Kelly making up his sexiest couple, except maybe for Grant and Bergman in “Notorious.”

From the (not too good) novel by David Dodge, scripted by John Michael Hayes. With Jessie Royce Landis, Charles Vanel and John Williams.

Pure – well, a little impure – fun.

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