February 10, 2007

Luc Moullet part one...

In preparation for an upcoming, yet-to-be solidified, roundtable discussion on Luc Moullet, here are two of his early critical pieces for Cahiers du cinéma. I have not found any further information on La Punition, the first film under consideration, but no matter, Moullet's article still has many interesting ideas, and also serves to remind that, at it's inception Cahiers was officially called: Cahiers du cinéma, Revue mensuelle du cinéma et du télécinéma.


La Punition (Jean Rouch, 1962)

From French television viewers to specialists in cinema verite, nearly everyone has condemned La Punition as a kind of cinema lie. Their attitude is unjustified because it confuses three very different elements: film, truth, and cinema verite. For example, we have no right to say that La Punition is bad because it's untrue (Rossif's documentaries are true, but look at the result), or because it's not real cinema verite (neither is The Rules of the Game), or because its director or, more precisely, its producer (and who should we believe if they disagree?) might incorrectly claim it is. In such a case it would have been enough if they had said nothing, or were from a place (Afghanistan) or time (1909-1914) forgotten by interviewers, for the film to be considered good. The truth of La Punition isn't apparent without the active participation of the television viewer, who in talking or doing the dishes while trying to watch the film, fails to comply, fails to participate. This is not the kind of passivity that a nerve-wraking dramatic intrigue forces you into. The audience has to actively interpret the film to understand at which level of truth the film situates itself. If we relax our attention, we lose the sense of the film. It's possible to watch La Punition three or four times without it ever being the same film. Even if it were eight hours long, it would be equally compelling. In this light, it seems rather unnecessary to cut six or eight minutes out of La Punition, simply to broadcast the full version of Cuba Si! afterwards. Here we have an exciting film devoid of eroticism and accessible to everyone, which would shatter box office records if the French didn't prefer, in place of simple, direct cinema (La Punition, Adieu Philippine, Procès de Jeanne d'Arc), the preciocity of indirect cinema(Melodie en sous-sol, La Grande Evasion, La Guerre des boutons), whose useless digressions, dullness, and repetitiveness in the end reflect purely commercial values. Such values enable viewers to turn their attention from films in which a handful of powerful scenes leave lasting impressions on minds no longer required to confront the disturbing reality of unadorned facts.

Luc Moullet, Cahiers du cinema, May 1964


Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
Luc Moullet

I hate westerns. That's why I adore Rio Bravo. The genre annoys me because, although the sentiments it portrays are admirable, they are almost always based on principle rather than fact. What little directing exists is concerned with something other than itself --personal problems, politics, technique. It denies the spirit of the true western and presents its opposite: emphasis, decorum, lyricism.Yet, Rio Bravo is pretty much the opposite of Johnny Guitar. There's nothing intrinsically poetic about the film although the end result is a kind of poetry. As always with Hawks the rules of the game are respected, at least until that moment when the director has hadenough. Rio Bravo is an extremely original film in that it's a western about confinement in which there are no Indians, landscapes, or chase scenes. It does something rare in rediscovering the essence of the genre, but it does so in this rather remarkable way (whereas Red River and Big Sky arrive at the same result without breaking with tradition). Rio Bravo brings to mind a thriller like To Have and Have Not or a meldrama, like Barbary Coast. So why did Hawks make this western? Because it enabled him to present actions that are not ordinarily seen in our everyday world, by beings outside of nature. I'm not a sheriff, or Angie Dickinson, or a pharaoh; neither are you.Yet Hawks shows us that the appeal of such individuals is unrelated to what we might expect ( the world of adventure, the extraordinary).Hawks the classicist has always rejected these values, satirized them, ridiculed them, even ignored them in The Thing. Yet he also accepts the everyday: a man is a sheriff the same way he's a laborer or a subway conductor. There are plenty of gunshots in Rio Bravo, but none of them real, none of them have any true dramatic value. The incessant gunfights end up only becoming monotonous, and they eliminate all suspense. Each repeated gesture cancels its predecessor. And Wayne's blase intelligence, far from contemplating the act, somehow immediately grasps the range of possible consequences. How Wayne does this is a question of telepathy, similar to the way Hawks' previous heroes had eyes in the back of their head.

Luc Moullet, Cahiers du cinema, July 1959


Two very good short articles on Moullet, on occasion of the recent travelling Moullet retrospective, one by Chris Fujiwara, "Mineral Cinema", and one by Sam Adams, "Funny Strange-Ha: The Not-Quite-Right Comedy of Luc Moullet".


If anyone has information about La Punition, please do tell. And if anyone is interested in the Moullet roundtable, please don't hesitate to email me.

This is the 100th post at Kino Slang. Russian proverb: "It is not the horse that draws the cart, but the oats." Thank you friends, for everything.



ZC said...

Congratulations on #100!

In theory I'd want to join in on a Moullet roundtable, but I've seen only three of his films, and doubt I could find anything interesting to say about them (my fault, not Moullet's). Thanks for posting the reviews, I'm going to read them this evening ...

Andy Rector said...

thanks Zach...
Which Moullet's did you see? At BAM?
The impetus to do this roundtable comes from the sudden availability of 4 of his films on dvd in the US, all revelations, and the desire not to let this signifcant event simply float away on the market's current. Facets basically made copies of 2 of the 4 discs in French company BlaqOut's Moullet boxset. So there's Les Contrabandiers, A Girl Is A Gun, Brigette et Brigette, and Parpaillon. (The others in the boxset, which will surely come up during the roundtable because they are enormous, are Anatomie d'un rapport, Genese d'un repas, and Les Sieges de l'Alcazar). I'm sure you'd have a lot to say if you were fresh off of Les Contrabandiers (or any of them really)!

c said...

there's a great article written by Luc Moullet (about lanscapes in his films) in cinéma | 010.


it's in french, if you want i send it to you

bruno andrade said...

There's some Moullet translated to portuguese - http://signododragao.blogspot.com/2006/10/o-medo-e-o-estupor.html (about a Mario Bava retrospective that ran in the French Cinematheque in 1994) - and spanish - http://signododragao.blogspot.com/2007/01/mejor-abrasarse-que-marchitarse-jean.html (from an article that appeared first in Film Comment, sept/oct 2000).

There's also this downright classical pan on Deleuze's writing that was published on Rouge, http://www.rouge.com.au/6/deleuze.html, which showcases some of Moullet's balance of wit, humour and rigorous analyses.

Andy Rector said...

this is excellent Bruno, thanks for communicating. I adore that Rouge piece, though I need to reread it.

Adrian Martin informs me that LA PUNITION is one of Jean Rouch's fiction films from 1962.
"According to one French site, it will likely be released on the next Rouch DVD box-set to be made available in France, devoted to his 'French period'. One commentary says: 'the importance of chance encounter is shown in two of Rouch's Parisian films ... which were key in Rouch's development as a filmmaker. La Punition (1962) shows a young woman leaving school one day, and meeting first with a French student, then an engineer, then an African student. It was in this film that Rouch fully applied the mobile camera work and synchronised sound that had been used towards the end of making Chronique d'un été.'"

This is exciting news (to me, I'm sure you Rouch heads out there knew the title immediately) because GARE DU NORD, his other film using these means, from the omnibus film PARIS VU PAR, is one of the greatest of all films to me, certainly one of the greatest short films ever made. From Mick Eaton's book on Rouch(BFI):
"The 'plot' of the film is very simple, based on what Rouch describes as a 'surrealist preoccupation', the chance meeting, and with a fictional form apparently developed from commedia dell'arte." The three men Nadine meets represent "love, money, and adventure", respectively. The film was heavily criticized by Roberto Rossellini.

Andy Rector said...

Adrian further drops knowledge:

"The terrific Mario Bava piece that Bruno mentions is also available in English: it's in the Australian (what else?) magazine METRO, special Bava dossier, sometime back in the mid '90s.

"Moullet's obsessions are nothing if not constant: one of his best CAHIERS epics circa '64 is an article - hilariously illustrated - on 'mountains in cinema', and it leads directly to his film of 25 years later, on the mountainous 'slag heaps' around France. That short was made available in the CINEMA issue with the Moullet dossier not so far back.

"His Nouvelle Vague attachments are also constant: his Godard article of '90, "Follow the Guide", is a real masterpiece, and his Truffaut piece, 'The Line and the Balance', is among the best things I ever read on this filmmaker (I used it as inspiration for my FILM JOURNAL piece on Robert Mulligan).

"In the Ruiz ROUGE issue (no. 2), the BLIND OWL entry is about half of LM's TRAFIC piece on this film. There are many Ruiz-Moullet connections: Ruiz's wife (and a marvellous filmmaker) Valeria Saremiento edited ORIGIN OF A MEAL, if I recall correctly. When I first met Raul in Australia in '93, one of his first pieces of enthusiastic advice was: "You must have a Moullet retrospective here!" His idea was to have a double retrospective: Moullet and Moretti (this was before Moretti's mainstream success beyond Italy with CARO DIARIO). Ruiz appears in Moretti's PALOMBELLA ROSSA."

much obliged Adrian!

girish said...

"The film was heavily criticized by Roberto Rossellini."

There is a great Cahiers interview conducted by Hoveyda and Rohmer with Rossellini in which they talk at length about LA PUNITION (issue 145, 1963; it appears in Rossellini's book MY METHOD, p. 138-143) .

The interviewers try to defend the film, trying to suggest that Rossellini may have misunderstood what Rouch was doing. It's a fascinating exchange.

Daniel Kasman said...

Are either of those Moullet pieces--on Godard and Truffaut--in English translations?

Andy Rector said...

phyre- not that I know of. The two Hillier CDC books have Moullet material in english. His piece on Fuller, on Breathless, his comments on American cinema in a roundtable...

girish said...

Andy -- Jean Douchet's FRENCH NEW WAVE contains this Moullet-penned capsule review of Michel Deville's Adorable menteuse: (p. 217)

"Adorable menteuse (1961) is a masterpiece. This film, perfect in nearly every respect, especially the acting, is dominated by its director. There are a few elements from his earlier films here. For example, Deville continues to include in his scenes several characters, all of whom behave differently and speak simultaneously. His dialogues are still as accurate, and as barely audible, as they are in real life. His male actors, emigres from the theater, are as irritating as before. But Deville's skill provides a different hue to the same raw materials. In retrospect, Adorable menteuse explains what Deville failed to capture in Ce soir ou jamais."

CdC, March 1962.

girish said...

Also, currently available at Cahiers on-line is an article called "Luc Moullet cinéaste critique de la raison comique" by Saad Chakali.

bruno andrade said...

Thanks Andy.

So, yesterday I was just messing around in the web, and stumbled upon this - http://www.ilcorto.it/pdf/EtaOro6064.pdf (you'll need Acrobat Reader or something else to read it; it will only open as pdf). In it you can basically read, amongst many other pieces (including stuff from Adriano Aprà), Moullet's original Cahiers piece (translated to Italian) of Cottafavi's LA VENDETTA DI ERCOLE (retitled Goliath and the Dragon for U.S. distribution). If you can't read Italian, he basically goes on about how the film was basically the best thing shown at the Venice Film Festival, how it represents a development on Cottafavi's body of work ('we already knew a Cottafavi technician, a Cottafavi metteur en scène, a Cottafavi great director of actors and splendid humanist. The result of this last work is much less human than what we had seen in Una donna libera and Le legioni di Cleopatra, but that which was lost here is compensated by an advance in other aesthetic qualities'), that it was nothing less than a 'sin' (that's the very word he uses) for the festival not to replace any of the uninteresting Italian films in competition for Cottafavi's latest work etc. etc. It's a typical Cahiers piece from early 60's - very close in spirit and tone to some MacMahonian writings, imho, particularly Mourlet pieces like 'Apologie de la violence' and 'Le mythe d'Aristarque' -, rather small (shouldn't have been more than a small piece on a longer article about the Venice Film Festival of that year), but it really showcases Moullet's talent for concision and clarity when exposing his dead-on perceptions, a 'matter-of-factness' which is something of a signature for him (many would disagree with me here, specially those who consider his articles "esoteric", "abstract" and "obscure").

Andy Rector said...

girish - I reread that interview between Rossellini, Hoveyda and Rohmer. Cinema vérité in this conversation is a real blockade! Rossellini openly denigrates LA PUNITION and blames it on cinema vérité (a generic, dogmatic, cold, stupefied thing to him). Hoveyda/Rohmer love the film and blame their love on Rouch, the personality involved in the genre (Hoveyda, before and after this interview, went against the film). The interview was actually a postscript to a debate about cinema verite at a screening of SHOWMAN (Maysles), intensely and raucously reported in Gallagher's RR book, page 556. RR says: "There doesn't exist a technique for grasping reality. Only a moral position can do so." But Rossellini saw Rouch as actively denying himself that in LA PUNITION, unwilling to take a position therefore revealing nothing.

Moullet, pointedly now, never mentions Rouch's name, but says "the director/producer" are incorrect to believe they have made a film of cinema vérité. LA PUNITION is 'direct', unadorned, like Renoir, like Bresson, like Rozier (like Rossellini ?...these words!) and requires active participation, engagement.

It suddenly seems that seeing LA PUNITION might be very important to understanding Moullet!

Was LA PUNITION, in reality, the opposite of the "unconscious" camera of Maysles? Moullet's camera is certainly the opposite of the "unobtrusive camera"; Moullet in fact finds new ways to completely lay himself and his means bare in Anatomie d'un rapport and Genese d'un repas. He's closer, in a sense, to Rouch's concept of "participating camera", i.e., shared anthropology - but always mediated by fiction and mise en scene!

I have a feeling that Rossellini was not always a great film viewer: he detested VIVRE SA VIE, but Truffaut delighted him.

Thanks, Girish, for the articles. The one from the Douchet book is interesting. Films explaining films. Have you seen any Moullet?

Andy Rector said...

Bruno- Your translation of Moullet's short Cottafavi piece is much appreciated, thank you. This thing about aesthetic balance, weakness speaking to strength and vice versa, from film to film of certain directors, it's also in the piece Girish posted. Cahiers critics always did this but Moullet seems to be most precise about it. His long Fuller article is really revealing in this regard. And with Kazan, he even went to the novels to compare!
Moullet is far from esoteric, in my humble opinion.

Your blog is astonishing, Bruno... And now I have the task of catching with o signo do dragão...
obrigado...pulsaçãos certamente!

girish said...

Andy -- Thanks for those comments on the LA PUNITION interview!

Alas I've seen no Moullet. But with the 4 now on DVD, I'm looking forward to it...

And your comment about films criticizing films reminds me that in Jim Hiller's intro to the 1950's CdC collection, he interestingly gives examples of film criticism at Cahiers that was itself a sort of rehearsal of filmmaking to come...

Anonymous said...

A Very Happy 100 Andy!

I am thrilled about the Moullet roundtable - a fantastic idea.

And have you seen this -


Andy Rector said...

Dear Mark Larson,
In case you're reading this, well here we are, in the comments of an old post. I thank you for the 100th Post-Day wishes but this post was the 100th over a year ago (!). Which also means the forever-in- the-back-of-the-head-Moullet roundtable is also a wish over one year old. But again I thank you for your encouragment and I certainly haven't forgotten the roundtable itself (the necessity remains). It will happen someday. No doubt.

Thanks for posting the BARRES link too. I knew of it but forgot to post it here over all these years. It's major Moullet, I think.