I know Brecht famously railed against the production of this film, and while I’m not inclined to argue with Brecht, he’s dead, and I’ll take what I can get. In particular, seeing Rudolf Forster’s Mack the Knife, Carola Neher’s Polly Peachum, and above all Lotte Lenya’s Jenny immortalized by G. W. Pabst gave me chills. Pabst’s expressionism brings a creeping threat to a city where greed and corruption have linked crime syndicates and banks, murderers and police chiefs, until they become indistinguishable.
One day you will come to me
From the strings of my guitar
That seeks only your love.
Adapted from Vinícius de Moraes’s play, the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. French director Marcel Camus uses a romanticized, arguably even primitivist perspective, but the music by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfá, the vibrant color, and infectious performances are all undeniable.
In 1959 Taipei, a bad grade sends a government employee’s kid to night school, where he gets swept up in the street gang culture after he falls for the girlfriend of a gang leader who’s on the run for murder. Working on a scale even more epic but intimate than he would later use in YI YI, Yang takes the real-life crime that inspired his story, and zooms in to explore how the political tension and instability in Taiwan trickled down from the government, to the teachers and parents, and ultimately to the children. Also, the Elvis covers are just excellent.
Early on in the film, Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine walks back from a play with the titular Bohemians, who are loudly debating the merits of the work and the female character in it. Exasperated with their theories about art and women, she suddenly leaps into the Seine. As the years pass, she continues to navigate the perpetually insufficient men around her, while they each try to find ways to contain her expansiveness with their different expectations of the type of woman they need her to be. I’m still mulling over the ending, but as Catherine tells one lover, “I don’t want to be understood.”
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.