Cleo from 5 to 7

Cleo from 5 to 7 begins with a consideration of death. The only color in the film is that of the tarot cards in the opening sequence; after that there is an exquisite black-and-white. The color had illuminated a gritty world which the descent to monochrome masks just in time to face the despairing Cleo’s bracing manifesto ‘As long as I am beautiful, I am even more alive than the others.’ The film might well take these words to itself.

Cleo and her film together step away from the presence of death and conceal themselves: Cleo into the bustle of a Parisian evening, the film into the intimate life of Cleo. How intimately can she be seen? Only as much as she will expose herself. On the way to her rooms she stops to buy a hat and is momentarily, yet tellingly, roused from her poor spirits. From 5 to 7 are the lovers’ hours in Paris, and when she returns, crushed by death’s portend, to her flat from the fortuneteller’s apartment the arrival of a lover is expected.

The lover arrives and goes, a man too busy to look at Cleo and see her panic; she is outside his life and he outside hers. What we need is some music: enter the songwriters, those who ought to know the passions, desires, and needs of Cleo. They cannot, even with music, touch Cleo’s soul, and when they accidentally do, they are wrapped up in something beyond their comprehension. In the most powerful scene of the film Cleo sings of the loneliness of the ugliness of death, and no one gets it—to them it is just a song, they dare not let it be more.

Cleo flees, and finds herself, in the end, seeking out her friend, who models part time and is comfortable with her nakedness, a nakedness which makes her happy, not proud. Where Cleo was unable to await her lover naked, instead adorning herself in pretentious, carefully considered negligee, her young friend happily reveals her beauty to a consort of unknown artists. Until this meeting I do not think Cleo could be taken seriously when she equated beauty with life, but suddenly, seeing her contrasted with her friend, she is taken in deadly earnest. She claims that she is worn out always looking at herself while pretending that she is looking at others looking at her. Here she touches upon a question worthy of minds like Walker Percy and St. John Paul the Great and exposes the film in all its depth.

The film is no longer hidden away, but is Cleo also able to return to a sense of innocent nakedness? That is the question the film is willing to reveal, but I do not think I will answer it here. Whether or not this film is a tragedy depends on the answer to this question. Does she see another and is she seen by another’s loving look, as St. Augustine describes man’s desire? That is the question behind the film’s art; mirrors and reflections are almost constantly present on the scene forcing us to keep this question in mind; Cleo is living in the eyes of others, terrified of ceasing to be, and knowing that ‘man is a being who tries to have an air of being, even if he does not wholly succeed in convincing himself that he is somebody’. The fear of being an ‘anybody’ hinders her from being a ‘somebody’—there must needs be a person to affirm Cleo. But is she looking in the right place? In the unnamed Parisian crowds? Jeramiah warned, ‘In vain you beautify yourself; your lovers despise you; they seek your life.’ Does she heed the warning or does she smother her beauty in artificial illusion?

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

This movie, with its convoluted punctuation, is a fun way to spend two hours and ten minutes, the downside being that you are nearly required by etiquette to stay in your seat for another twenty minutes. It delivers what we have come to expect from the Mission Impossible franchise: clever twists in the plots, action-packed sequences, and Tom Cruise’s good looks. I smiled broadly at the revealing of the first twist in the film, and that silly grin remained plastered on my face for a good two hours more. The clever, tongue-in-cheek exchanges between Tom Cruise and his cocky CIA counterpart are good for a few laughs, a few classic who’s-wearing-a-mask tricks tickle your apprehension, and the myriad of good looking girls (some of whom are quite handy in a pinch) keep up the glamour which, in justice, should surround a man with Ethan’s talents. I guess there are perks to always being undercover. I guess there is a downside as well: arriving in Kashmir only to find that your ex-wife who has been ‘ghosting’ for years is there with her new lover and is in danger of being killed in a nuclear blast and also of derailing your action driven plot. Thankfully for Cruise, there is nothing more to do than to fly around in a helicopter and then kill the bad guy, all pleasing and distracting cleverness was left behind in the sewers of Paris. It is from Paris onward that the film devolves into a monotonous race against time, and what better way to add intensity than an ex-wife? Nonetheless, Tom Cruise does not disappoint, and is as enjoyable to watch as he ever has been.

Titanic (1943)

Although this movie is thoroughly enjoyable, it is unable to rise beyond the propagandist element. It was made by a German during the Second World War, and it shows. It belabors an Anglophobic message, introducing each German character at length and even spending much time explaining their presence on this English-speaking enterprise. Our hero is a German officer; the true-love story (the only one blind to money) is between two German third-class passengers. According to this story, the ship sank because of a Wall Street (or Fleet Street) feud between the owner and the richest American on board.

Because of this feud, which dominates the first two-thirds of the movie, the actual sinking of the ship is only seen accidentally and as a consequence of British greed. If you missed the implication, it is literally spelt out at the end of the movie. This subservience of the sinking to the propaganda artistically takes away from the tragic nature of the catastrophe; the panic among the passengers and their partially constructed stories are muted throughout the beginning and unfortunately rushed at the end.

The acting and directing are quite good; in an effort to first immerse the audience in the glamour and arrogance of British industrial might and then in the dynamic panic and rush of disaster, Titanic is shot in such a way that nearly every shot is magnificently layered and crowds and mobs are frequently moving in the background. This gives a certain spectacular effect which the British film A Night to Remember does not match, but takes away from the necessary impression that these characters are people who are each facing their end in their own way. As for special effects, which demand a note, Titanic too clearly uses a model and thus there is a separation between the ship’s floundering and the characters affected.

The Great Race

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis were together in Some Like it Hot, and so I thought that perhaps The Great Race, a movie I had seen and loved as a little child, might be more than just a children’s movie. I’m afraid it wasn’t even that. It is poor, flat, slapstick. Big actors and set-piece situations do not make a movie fresh, and the staleness of this movie is all the more apparent for being so similar to Help!, the Beatles movie released the same year. Jack and Tony are sloughing through their lines, knowing they are stars and the script is trash and they have done this all before with Billy Wilder, who was a master. Help! And The Great Race could be pieces of the same script, but if that were so, the Beatles would be constantly going off script and infusing their wacky scenarios with their dry and fresh humor. Don’t waste your time.

RKO 281

Citizen Kane is arguably the greatest movie made, and RKO 281, a movie based on the making of Citizen Kane, pulls upon the inherently interesting story of such a great movie being made by Orson Welles. Hearst, the seemingly all-powerful newspaper mogul, quickly discovering that the film is about him and not flattering, does his best to prevent the film from every seeing the screen. Sure, there are some corny parts, and there is an over-dramatization merited perhaps by the largeness of the characters involved, but the film is still enjoyable. I noticed, though, at the beginning of the film, that it is based, in part, on a documentary. I will wager that watching the documentary is a better use of your time and will have all the enjoyable elements of this movie.

Last Year at Marienbad

What a strange movie. The camera pans over a ornate house filled with puppet characters who are never given dialogue worth noting. At least twice I missed dialogue because I didn’t read the subtitles, but it didn’t mar the movie. This may have been because none of the dialogue has any import, or because what I missed had been said a dozen times already, or because I didn’t miss the lines at all, but only thought I must have.

For all the oddity of the movie, it was fascinating. It is like a who done it where the who is know and the it is questioned. What was done, or left undone? Nabokov criticized Dostoevsky and claimed that people who loved his novels mistook vacuity for mystery. That might be the case here, but it doesn’t seem to matter since you are more interested in seeing something, anything, rather than deceitful story you are telling and hoping you yourself might believe.

This film is violent in the way Scorsese’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ is. The narrator repeats again and again the same few lines and is repulsed by the girl, but she does begin to yield and a story and a pass do being to emerge in spite of every effort to reject them. Where Scorsese pits his characters against the fixed rules of society, Last Year at Marienbad pits our desire to know what is what against a desire to repress the unseemly in our past.

I thought this movie was fascinating, but won’t recommend it because I can’t think of anyone who I would recommend it to. If you watch it let me know what you think.

Divided We Fall

This Czech movie is pleasant enough to watch, but seems to love the strangeness of its plot twists just a little too much. It takes an odd crowd and insures their intimate proximity is left to stew into strange and perplexing situations. There are too many quirky circumstances for the film to properly introduce before they cause baffling solutions. We are left half-wondering what exactly is going on and whether their solutions are the only available ones while we should be focusing on appreciating the climax. I don’t surf, but I would imagine sitting on a board in a sea too choppy to ride a wave would elicit a feeling similar to that felt while watching this movie.

Some of the scenes are beautiful and some are touching, but in the moments of excitement and confusion the camera-work manages to confuse without exciting us.

It is good to show that in order to stand against oppression you must unite, but when uniting seems to demand that you let your wife become impregnated by a harbored jew and the baby delivered by a man who has tried to rape her there is no satisfaction. Instead you are left wondering if the film isn’t throwing out all morality (with the well accepted caveat that Nazis are evil) and claiming that in this dog eat dog world we must do whatever we can just to stay alive.