Melodrama

Madame de… is one of the Weirder Films on the list

The 1001 movies list contains films of all kinds. Romances and westerns, comedies and horror. It’s even got some core science fiction on it.

Madame de… (translated into English as The Earrings of Madame de...) defies easy classification. If you go by the plot, it’s obviously a melodrama, especially considering the ending.

But that would be an oversimplification. The story is told in a way that would work much better for a romance even bordering on a romantic comedy, with an absurd coincidence involving a pair of earrings driving the twists and turns of the plot.

We see a love triangle in which a man of action is forced, by the indiscretions of his wife to first enter denial and then acceptance of the realities of their marriage. He responds in truly the only way open to him… with melodramatic results.

So the light frivolity of a period romance and the serious underlying reality occur in parallel with the result that the film never achieves the weighty, ponderous tension of true melodrama. The audience is carried lightly from scene to scene, more interested in the weird perambulations of the earrings than in the disintegrating relationship underlying everything.

Until it explodes in an obvious but still unexpected denoument.

Bringing an audience to the end the director did without making it obvious (despite there being very few other possibilities) is an act of genius, and Max Ophüls is to be commended.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in Love and Death, a novel told in short story form which follows the intertwined lives of a dozen people who experience both love and death and show once again that these are the only two things worth writing about. You can check it out here.

Another British Smash

Once again, we’ve come up on a British film in our viewing of the 1001 movies list, and, just like The Lavender Hill Mob, this one benefits from being British as opposed to a Hollywood product.

I won’t tell you the name of the film.  Instead, let’s look at the elements.  It’s essentially a Greek tragedy of a film, which tells you, from the very beginning, that it ends with the death of the major love interests.  It’s written as a melodrama, and one of the characters, a man in love commits suicide five minutes in… and he’s not even one of the two cadavers from the first scene.

So how would Hollywood have treated this one?  If you said with a heavy-handed dose of melodrama, I’d have to agree with you.

And then the British came in.  For some reason, the Brits seem to be able to take pretty much anything they touch, no matter how plodding and melodramatic, imbue it with a dash of humor and fatalistic acceptance and turn it into a delight.  I kid you not.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman - Ava Gardner and James Mason.jpg

Today’s subject is 1951’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, whose plot stretches the ability for making melodrama bearable to the very limits.  And yet, the film is wonderfully watchable, as if the director had studied the challenge, raised an eyebrow and said “I thought you would bring me something difficult” and then went off to produce a masterpiece.

Every moment of this one flows at exactly the perfect pace.  It’s not a caper film or an action blockbuster, but it keeps you entertained by combining elements of mystery, love stories, beautiful scenery, questionable morals, a major car crash and even a bullfight.  And all along, the actors deliver wonderful performances, understated or overwrought as the case may be.

Of course, it isn’t perfect… the name ‘Flying Dutchman’ is applied to a person and not a ship, which causes some head-scratching (especially for a person who writes and reads as much fantasy as I do), and I, for one, don’t like the framing device of knowing they’re going to be dead at the end.  But even with all of that, I watched, entranced, as the magic happened.  The garish color of the era helped as well.

An aside for the performance of James Mason, who we’d already seen in The Reckless Moment.  Before he became a major Hollywood star, he was apparently typecast as a doomed tragic figure which, given his peaceful delivery and world-weary acceptance is utterly perfect.

Anyhow, very much worth watching.  Find it and see it.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans every genre and length. His latest book is, Jungle Lab Terror, a romp through the Darien Gap… with monsters and a mad scientist.  Those who like their 1950’s style b-movie thrills with a dose of 21st century literary quality can learn more here.

Psychological Subtlety Lifts this One Out of Noir

I love film noir.  The moody scenes, the stock phrases, the sultry femmes fatale.  It’s a wonderful transportation to a lost world that probably never really existed.

But subtle?  No way.

The characters spiral out of control and, except when Bogart is involved, come to awful, well-deserved and often gruesome ends.

And then we come to 1949 and The Reckless Moment.

The Reckless Moment - French Film Poster.jpg

This is a noir film where the psychological motivations are much deeper than the usual greed, lust and fear.  It’s a film that leaves you with questions, even though it’s not exactly Camus.

The setup is that a mother is being blackmailed for her daughter’s indiscretions after an unfortunate accident kills off the girl’s lover.  The mother, far from being innocent, responds foolishly – but we’re never quite certain if the mother’s innocent, wholesome facade afterwards is an act or if it’s coldly calculated to draw in the man who ultimately takes the fall.

The criminal element in this one is an Irish gangster with–in what later becomes a cliché–a heart of gold.  In single handedly saving the day, he becomes the sympathetic character, the one socially conscious people point to when the say that people are good, but sometimes their upbringing didn’t give them a chance.

Like Gun Crazy, I wouldn’t call this one noir.  It just doesn’t hit the mark.  While Gun Crazy misses because it’s too B-movie simplistic, this one misses because of its attempt at sophistication.  I would call it a crime drama… but not noir.

As for the film itself, in moving away from the noir formula, I’m not certain it helped its cause.  It is both slower and less impactful than the films which share its supposed genre.  Decent, but others are better.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose crime thriller Timeless is the story of a journalist who gets involved with forces she can’t quite understand, much less control.  It’s sexy and fast-paced and modern… and you can buy it here.

 

The Greatest Chinese Film Ever? Perhaps. Surprisingly Modern Either Way

Spring_in_a_Small_Town_poster

Spring in a Small Town is not a film I’d heard of before the 1001 Movies list brought it to my attention.

This isn’t surprising, for any number of reasons.  In the first place, I’m not really a fan of subtitled or translated films.  I’ll watch them only after critics have unanimously anointed them great, and then, as in this case, seventy years later.  Chinese films fare no better than French flicks in this case (unless there’s nudity and sex… I’ll always give nudity and sex a chance).

But there’s more to it than that.  Spring in a Small Town is a film that, by not being expressly political was essentially blacklisted after the China’s communist revolution, and has really only been rehabilitated today.

It’s even pretty hard to find online (well, it’s easy to find if you speak Chinese, but subtitled versions are a different story); your best bet if you can’t get hold of a deluxe DVD collection is probably the subtitled version on YouTube.

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All of this conspires to hide a true gem from popular consumption. This is a film whose sensibilities are more likely to be found in a French film from the sixties or seventies (with the requisite amount of nudity) than anything contemporary Hollywood was churning out.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, so I’ll just give you the setup.  A woman, the main character lives an unhappy life with her ailing husband.  The man she was hoping to marry before the war turns up, not to visit her, but to visit her husband who is an old friend of his.  And then they’re off and running, not flinching nor turning it into the kind of infantile comedy or melodrama that Hollywood would create.

Awesomely, Wei Wei, the actress who played the leading role, is still alive today and has been recently active.  We salute her!

 

Gustavo Bondoni has recently launched a collection of linked literary stories that create a single narrative.  The book is called Love and Death, and you can have a look at it here.