Tag Archives: French

CAPSULE: NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU [POUPOUPIDOU] (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Gérald Hustache-Mathieu

FEATURING: Jean-Paul Rouve, Sophie Quinton, Guillaume Gouix

PLOT: In a snowbound French town, a crime novelist investigates the death of a local celebrity who believed herself to be the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe.

Still from Nobody Else but You [Poupoupidou] (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Nobody Else but You flirts with weirdness, especially through some nods to “Twin Peaks,” but it only nudges the needle on the old Weirdometer a little past a reading of “offbeat.”

COMMENTS: Nobody Else but You may appeal most Marilyn Monroe-philes and fans of “Twin Peaks.” Hustache-Mathieu’s obsession with these bits of Americana, along with other pop cultural touchstones like crime novelist James Ellroy, isn’t likely to endear him to his countrymen, but it makes his style translate easily on these shores (this is a great French movie to show people who assume they hate French movies). Even the soundtrack is a retread, with chilly modern renditions of Sixties hits like “I Put a Spell on You” and “California Dreaming” (in English). With such flavorful inspirations, the movie never entirely becomes its own thing; but that’s not a huge problem, since Hustache-Mathieu borrows with taste, and the novelty occurs in the mixture of iconic inspirations. The Marilyn Monroe references are easy to pick up on—maybe too easy—but the “Twin Peaks” nods are a little subtler. There’s the general tone of quirky menace, the setting of an isolated country town full of strange characters, and the theme of an outsider investigating the death of a wholesome blonde local celebrity who turns out to have terrible secrets. The director adds a few more specific references, like secret tapes held by a psychiatrist, a flickering-lights-in-the-morgue scene, and the shrouded headshot of the beautiful corpse dusted with powder. This movie doesn’t go deliriously over-the-top with Lynch‘s mix of melodrama, comedy and surrealism, however; and the dour crime novelist replacing “Peaks”‘ gung-ho G-man along with the general hostility of the villagers to the outsider mark other significant differences from the TV scenario. Prematurely craggy Jean-Paul Rouve is intense and obsessed enough to serve as the audience’s conduit into the mystery. He gets a little help from the one sympathetic cop in town, though there’s no payoff to the awkward homoerotic chemistry that develops between the two. Like Michelle Williams in 2011’s more famous My Week with Marilyn, Sophie Quinton isn’t exactly a dead ringer for Norma Jean Mortenson, but she captures the essentially quality of Marilynishness: that potent mix of raw sex and delicious tragedy. Real-time narration by the corpse, the sexiest cheese ad you’ve ever seen, and a photo shoot with nude firemen score significant quirk points and keep the interest from flagging. It may not be the weirdest movie out there, but it’s different enough to engage the adventurous viewer. If you’re a Marilyn Monroe fanatic, or if you’re just in the mood for a light and mild French variation on a David Lynch/Coen Brothers thriller, you could do a lot worse.

When watching this movie, look out for the number “5.” You could even make a drinking game out of spotting the numeral, if you were inclined to get really hammered.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a subversive and strange little film noir…”–Boyd van Hoeij, Variety (contemporaenous)

LIST CANDIDATE: CHICKEN WITH PLUMS [POULET AUX PRUNES] (2011)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi

FEATURING: , , Edouard Baer, Golshifteh Farahani, 

PLOT: A master musician loses the will to live after his prized violin is destroyed, and retires to his deathbed where his story is told through flashbacks mingled with fantasy sequences.

Still from Chicken with Plums [Poulet aux Prunes] (2011)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a movie made up mostly of deathbed hallucinations that includes visits with Socrates, the Angel of Death, and a giant version of Sophia Loren; that’s enough to get it on the weird map. The fact that it’s visually spectacular and delightfully artificial hurts not a bit.

COMMENTS: In the 1950s all doomed, elegant heroes and heroines in the movies smoked, and smoke is a key visual element of Chicken with Plums. Early in the film, master violinist Nasser-Ali reluctantly smokes opium at the insistence of an antiques dealer; later, his dead mother’s soul is so thick that it’s visible as a cloud of smoke hovering over her grave. Stylistically, the film is itself like smoke, wispy and constantly changing. Dream sequences, flashbacks and flash-forwards explore an expansive visual palette, ranging from figures isolated in Expressionist shadows to popup storybook animations. Everything is deliberately stagebound so that even in the “realistic” scenes, the skies are a hand-painted pink and lavender. The most jarring experiment is a moment where the movie suddenly turns into an American-style sitcom, complete with a laugh track; if you can handle that side trip, you’ll be in for the whole ride. Death-seeking Nasser-Ali, played with frowny melancholia by mustachioed Mathieu Amalric, is a selfish character, to be sure, but the more we learn about his backstory the more forgiving we become. We’re never able to absolve him entirely of his decision to abandon life (and his wife and children), but we do feel the weight he bears through his life, and can appreciate his decision as tragedy. Our hearts break the moment his does. Nasser-Ali’s apparently shrewish wife Faringuisse (de Medeiros) stars in an equally tragic subplot, and one of their two children is given an epilogue that generates further despair. It’s all very romantic, but the old, sentimental “love is worth dying for” theme plays believably only in the unreal movie past the film evokes: the formal world of yesteryear where gentlemen always wear ties, ladies wear hats, and everyone blows smoke directly at the camera. Chicken with Plums‘ 1930s-1950s time frame conjures up a comforting antique nostalgia, and the Iranian setting adds exotic spice. Delightfully strange moments include when the hallucinating musician is smothered in giant cleavage, a visitation from a ragged gravesite prophet, and the chilling appearance of the Angel of Death, who drops by not to claim Nasser-Ali’s soul but just to chat a bit and to tell a morbidly ironic story-within-the-story. Like a solo adagio played on an antique instrument, Nasser-Ali’s tale is beautiful and sad. Unabashedly artificial, unashamed to moon over lost loves, and a little aware of the absurdity of its own romanticism, Chicken with Plums hits a unique note: despondent whimsy.

Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s first film collaboration was the award-winning animated Persepolis (2007), adapted by Satrapi from her own autobiographical graphic novel. Chicken with Plums is also from a Satrapi comic, and supposedly tells the (obviously embellished) story of a relative of hers. On an unrelated note, this movie reunites and , last seen together in the Certified Weird The Saddest Music in the World.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The many surreal flourishes, like the film’s giant breasts and petals floating through a pink-tinged sky, are supposed to be absolved of cringing obviousness because they’re, you know, poetic and exotic.”–Farran Smith Nehme, The New York Post (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: THREE CROWNS OF THE SAILOR (1983)

Les Trois Couronnes du Matelot

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Raoul Ruiz

FEATURING: Jean-Bernard Guillard, Philippe Deplanche

PLOT: A weary sailor promises a desperate student passage on a sailing ship, but first he

Still from Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983)

relates tales of his surreal adventures in ports around the world.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s easier to think of reasons Three Crowns of the Sailor should make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies than reasons it shouldn’t. It won’t make it on the first ballot because it lacks a “wow” factor; with its subtle, literary tone, it’s more of a slow burn movie, one that seems likely to grow in stature the more one thinks about it. Time will tell whether it will end up Listed among the best; in the meantime, director Raoul Ruiz has better known movies that may deserve Listing before this one.

COMMENTS: In the first post-credits sequence of Three Crowns of the Sailor, a student is discussing his crimes in the first person; as he wanders the streets in post-offense panic, he begins talking about himself in the third person. This is an appropriate digression, because in Crowns one character is always turning into another. Situations, dialogues and symbols recur with variations; one of the crew of the cursed ship Funchalese will often blame his actions on “the other,” some perpetual double always hiding out below decks. The film’s main themes are storytelling (stories are told inside of other stories), forgetfulness, otherness, and escape, and totems also show up across the seaman’s wandering tales, especially jewelry and money. The nameless sailor continually borrows money from his seafaring brethren, keeping himself in a constant state of debt that ties him to the ship. Each of the episodes the sailor relates are absurd—such as the time he fell for the exotic dancer with only one orifice, or when his shipmates give birth to worms through their boils—but they are also verbally and intellectually playful, inspired almost as much by Jorge Luis Borges as by Luis Buñuel. Each of the sailors is tattooed with a single letter, to stress that they are all individual elements that go together to form a sentence and eventually a story. Our old salt is rescued by a child who lives inside a vast house with edges he has never been able to locate in his explorations. The sailor tells him his life story, but the boy informs him that those anecdotes have already been told in the books that line the house’s infinite walls. Other memorable conceits include children chanting the 365 names of the male organ outside a bordello window, a sentence served in prison with a guru who teaches the inmates the basics of theology, and a second prophet, a black supremacist who requests three Danish crowns. The sailor’s bizarre tour of the world’s exotic ports plays with reality in a way that’s deliberately intended to confound; the framing story where he encounters the student adheres to a fantastical folktale logic that makes for a pleasing contrast. If you’re in the mood for literate confusion with a vein of humor as black and dry as gunpowder, you couldn’t do much better than Three Crowns of a Sailor.

Incredibly, Three Crowns of a Sailor was made for broadcast on French television. According to Ruiz the story was inspired by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and a Chilean legend about a ship of the dead.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…should delight students of semiotics and probably no one else.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Irene, who explained it featured “a lot of mystic characters, events, Latin America ‘bordelieras’, beautiful ‘putas’, and when you see worms squeezed out of boils on a sailor’s chest, and later these worms metamorphosing into poisonous butterflies killing the birds who eat them, you understand that this movie is to be mentioned here.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES (1997)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Alexandra Pic, Isabelle Teboul, Bernard Charnacé

PLOT: Two eternally reborn vampire girls who are blind during the day but see at night pose as

Still from Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

orphans and are adopted by an eye doctor who believes he can cure them.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Two Orphan Vampires is a very odd, low key movie, but it won’t be confused for Jean Rollin’s best.

COMMENTS: After having some mild success with his unusual, surreal erotic vampire movies in the early 1970s, Jean Rollin fell out of fashion later in the decade and increasingly turned to grinding out hardcore porn films to pay the bills, directing his beloved horrors only sporadically. Although it’s not his final fright film, Two Orphan Vampires feels like a swan song, an old man returning to the themes that haunted him in his youth. Adapted from his own graphic novel, the director’s usual obsessions are all back, undiluted after almost 30 years: Sapphic heroines, world weary vampires struggling with existential burdens of near-immortality, indifference to pacing. The film was obviously made on the cheap, adorned with a poor music score that’s 1/2 funk, 1/2 80s synth-pop and shot on low quality film stock that gives it a direct-to-video look. The cheapness is not helped by the fact that almost half the movie is tinted ultramarine, which is Rollin’s realization of the vampires’ night vision but also unfortunately brings to mind the low-budget trick of using a blue filter in order to shoot day for night. The concept of vampires being blind during the day is novel—more, it’s practically inexplicable, one of many strangely conceived features of this movie that could only have come from this particular director and his skewed view of the Gothic. Orphan Vampires is also unusually talky, even for Rollin, with the girls expressing angst, filling us in on their backstory, and remembering (perhaps imagining) their various reincarnations in lengthy dialogues. Still, the core scenario of these two eternal child-women wandering through the human world as if in a dream is appealing. In their travels they stumble upon other immortal monsters—werewolves, ghouls—all women, all wanderers like themselves. Never has the correspondence between blood and sexual fluids been as pronounced as in this film: lines like “it’s good to be sticky from the lifeblood of this woman,” “I adore you—smear me with some blood” and “you think we could drink each other?” reinforce the connection none too subtly. Other oddities include an strangely staged stalking and slaying taking place in a circus tent conveniently set up in the middle of a Paris street, the vampire girls taking time out to experiment with alcohol and cigarettes like typical teenagers, and the orphans’ continual insistence that they are actually Aztec gods. Two Orphan Vampires is slow, cheap, badly dubbed, and the vampire-vision blue filters get old, true, but there is an almost endearing strangeness and obsessiveness to the movie’s eccentric conceptions. Unfortunately, it goes on too long and wears out its welcome even for those who are attuned to this director’s plodding style, making it yet another of Rollin’s noble failures.

A couple of actresses from the past show up in Two Orphan Vampires, reinforcing the notion of this film as a Rollin retrospective piece. Natalie Perrey from Lips of Blood appears as a nun, and porn actress/topless Grim Reaper is an orphan vampire victim. An even more obscure cameo comes in the Midnight Lady’s choice of bedside reading: Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill’s “Immoral Tales,” an influential survey of seventies Eurohorror that included an appreciative chapter on Rollin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though the two orphans are beautiful to look at and their condition tragic, there’s nothing else to hold onto as a viewer. I’m sure some viewers hold on and glean something from this bizarre film, but it never quite gets as weird as [Rollin’s] best work.”–Gordon Sullivan, DVD Verdict

CAPSULE: THE DEMONIACS (1974)

Les démoniaques; AKA Curse of the Living Dead

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: John Rico, Joëlle Coeur, Lieva Lone, Patricia Hermenier

PLOT: A crew of “wreckers” rape and apparently kill two female shipwreck survivors, but the two

Still from The Demoniacs (1974)

girls seek revenge with the help of the evil spirits who live in nearby ruins.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jean Rollin expands his narrow directorial palette slightly with The Demoniacs, moving away from his usual vampires and stepping out of his musty old castles for the fresh air of the seashore. The film doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the usual Rollin romp, however, and despite the pirate spice the result in a fairly typical film that exhibits all the artsploitation auteur’s usual virtues (visuals and atmosphere) and vices (pacing and continuity).

COMMENTS: The Demoniacs explores a new aesthetic for Jean Rollin, one that I’d dub “beach Gothic”: there are scenes set in a ship cemetery, a battered girl in a nightgown crawling along the shoreline past a congregation of carefully arranged crabs, and a pirate’s tavern decorated with bat wings and death’s heads. The villains of the piece are a quartet of sinister salts called “wreckers” who scheme to lure ships onto the shallow reefs of their island home at night, then salvage the loot that washes up onshore. On the night this tale begins, the crew is rooting through their latest catch when two beautiful young blonde girls in pristine white nightgowns stride out of the sea, looking as if they’re walking on water. True to their corrupt natures, the pirates’ response to this eerie and angelic vision is to rape the two innocent survivors, brutally beat them, and leave them for dead. (The rape scene is overlong, and somehow seems even more unpleasant and perverted because the abuse is so badly choreographed). Whether the girls were killed or not remains ambiguous; later, the Captain sees visions of them in a drunken stupor and is convinced they’ve come back to haunt him, but a villager also spots the girls walking about. That sighting leads the wreckers to track the fugitives to a graveyard of shipwrecks—an amazing location, although the most suspenseful question arising in the chase is whether the busty female brigand’s impractical bodice will be able to contain her heaving bosoms during the ensuing three-way gal slap fight. The girls flee into the “cursed ruins” where even the wreckers fear to follow; there, they are met by an orange-haired female clown (!) who introduces the suddenly mute cuties to a sleeping evil who promises to give them a chance at revenge. This sets up a third act with a resolution that’s bewildering even by Rollin’s nonlinear standards. Along the way we get a psychic brothel proprietress, bloodless pigeon heads, and macabre background details like the cheerful noose that hangs over the Captain’s bed as a decoration. One of the film’s biggest assets is Joëlle Coeur as the wanton female wrecker; she’s one in a long line of remarkably beautiful and uninhibited leading ladies Rollin managed to dig up. She’s tempting, she’s perverse, and she’s hard to take your eyes off of whenever she’s onscreen.

After you’ve seen several of them, Rollin’s 1970s movies start to blur together; they become almost interchangeable, like hazy fragments from an uneasy night of nightmares, so that one’s preference for one over another is based on subtle and almost arbitrary criteria. I consider this one of his better efforts, but newcomers will take a while to adjust to the slow pace (it seems like the Captain even gropes his mistress in slow motion). Rollin’s vampire movies may be a better place to start, since the familiar bloodsucker lore provides the viewer with something of a safety net when logic leaves them hanging.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“For all its dreamlike Rollinesque tendencies ‘Les Demoniaques’ is actually a solid and entertaining (if somewhat lackluster) viewing experience. The premise is handled well and the narrative is welcomingly coherent; Rollin’s direction is pretty much faultless throughout and the cast cackle their way through the script in fine fashion (with as ever much topless shenanigans on show to keep art house fans discreetly aroused)…”–Alan Simpson, SexGoreMutants.com (DVD)

120. FANTASTIC PLANET [LA PLANETE SAUVAGE] (1973)

“Cinema is showing more and more. It’s a paranoid, dictatorial cinema. And it’s saying less and less. We need a schizophrenic cinema.”–René Laloux

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: René Laloux

FEATURING: Eric Baugin, Jennifer Drake, Jean Valmont (voices)

PLOT: On a fantastic planet full of strange creatures, a race of mystical giant blue aliens (named “Traags”) treat humans (called “Oms”) as either pets, or as pests to be exterminated. An orphan Om dubbed Ter is adopted by a young Traag, but eventually escapes captivity, taking along an encyclopedic headband that holds all the aliens’ knowledge of their world. He meets up with a band of wild Oms scratching out a living in the surreal landscape and, using the alien technology, fashions a plan for humanity to escape its captivity.

Still from Fantastic Planet (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • Fantastic Planet was a French/Czechoslovakian co-production, and is often assumed to be an allegory for the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. The similarity between the enslavement of the Czechs and the Oms is coincidental, however. Fantastic Planet was based on a science fiction novel written by Stefan Wul in 1957. Laloux only used Czech animators because there was no real animation industry in France at the time and the Czechs worked cheaply; he began production in 1968, before the Soviet invasion. The newly installed Czech puppet regime canceled the production, but eventually relented, and work resumed in 1971.
  • The Czech animation team reportedly tried to depose Laloux and install one of their own animators as director. The coup failed, and friendly relations were restored.
  • “Oms,” the term the aliens use to refer to humans, is a corruption of the French word “hommes” (“men”). The original French novel was titled Oms en série (“Oms in series”), which is also an electrical pun (“Ohms in series”).
  • Writer/painter Roland Topor was the production designer for the film and the man responsible for much of the movie’s surreal look. Topor drew up the designs and the original cutouts used in the production, but left the project before animation began. Topor was a bit of a weird movie polymath; besides working on Fantastic Planet, he wrote the novel on which  Roman Polanski‘s The Tenant (1976) was based, and appeared as Renfield in ‘s Nosferatu the Vampire (1979). Topor was also one of the three co-founders of the French theatrical “Panic movement,” together with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
  • Fantastic Planet won the Special Jury Prize (the second most prestigious award) at Cannes in 1973.
  • The movie was distributed in the United States by Roger Corman‘s New World Pictures, known mainly for their drive-in exploitation movies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The twisted topography of Fantastic Planet features flying sawtooth-beaked anteaters, bat-winged flora straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s worst nightmares, and glittering crystals which spontaneously grow and shatter with a whistle. Selecting a single souvenir snapshot from among these startling vistas would be an impossible task. Fortunately, Fantastic Planet‘s artists animate not only landscapes, but mindscapes as well, illustrating the giant blue Traag’s spiritual expeditions by showing their heads floating away in giant soap-bubbles and other trippy tropes. From among these, we’ll choose the moment when four Traags’ close their eyes and blank out while their bodies do impressions of lava lamps, morphing and flowing like heated wax, as the film’s indelible image (though we’d be unable to quarrel with anyone who chose to canonize almost any other moment of the film).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Terry Gilliam-meets-Salvador Dalí-in-space animation combined

American trailer for Fantastic Planet

with the acidic prog-rock soundtrack encourages (or even precipitates) altered states of viewing, but Fantastic Planet is more than just an astral trip. It’s a solid sci-fi parable set in a fully realized, incredibly detailed, and truly alien world that provokes more and more astonishment with each succeeding scene.

COMMENTS: Made between 1968 and 1973, at the height of the Acid Era, Fantastic Planet Continue reading 120. FANTASTIC PLANET [LA PLANETE SAUVAGE] (1973)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (1968)

Le viol du vampire

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Bernard Letrou, Solange Pradel, Jacqueline Sieger

PLOT: In Part I a psychoanalyst tries to cure four sisters of their belief that they are

Still from Rape of the Vampire (1968)

centuries-old vampires; in Part II, the Queen of the Vampires revives the cast members who died in Part I so she can conduct medical experiments on curing vampirism.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Jean Rollin’s feature debut—which began as a partially improvised 30 minute short in which the main characters died at the end, only to be magically brought back to life for “part II” so the story could be expanded to feature length—is one of the vampire auteurs weirdest works, which is saying something. But, like all Rollin films, it’s a mixture of the awe-inspiring and the godawful. There’s likely only room for one Rollin representative on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies; is Rape it? We’ll need to finish up his entire catalog to be sure.

COMMENTS: Rape of the Vampire wants to be the Un Chien Andalou of lesbian vampire movies; it can’t quite reach those lofty aspirations, but it does have fun trying. Viewers frequently complain that the story is “incomprehensible,” but that’s not quite the case; the vampiric shenanigans are illogical and confusingly related, but there is a plot line that plays through from beginning to end. It’s the old story about a psychoanalyst who visits a chateau uninvited to convince four sisters they’re not vampires, then falls in love with one of the sisters and gets killed by angry villagers and then is secretly resurrected so he can foil the plan of the Queen of the Vampires to simultaneously cure vampirism and inaugurate a new age of the nosferatu by burying a bride and groom in a coffin during a high school play. Or something like that. Rollin deliberately disorients the viewer, and you can be forgiven for thinking that you must have nodded off and missed some crucial plot point; this is the kind of movie where you’re constantly gazing at the screen and thinking, “who is that guy again? Isn’t he dead?” For example, there is a scene where the psychiatrist tries to convince one of the sisters that she’s no more blind than she is a vampire; Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (1968)