Michel Ocelot, Ermanno Olmi, Max Ophüls, Nagisa Oshima, François Ozon, Yasujirō Ozu



Ocelot, Michel

Michel Ocelot (Bio) | 19th Cascade Festival of African Films ...  biography

Michel Ocelot was born on the French Riviera and spent his childhood in Guinea and his adolescence in the Anjou region of France. After studying art, he learned about animated films by directing short films during his vacations with a group of friends who each used different techniques (cartoons, puppets, etc.). Michel Ocelot also enjoyed animating paper cut-out characters. He kept a taste for varied creations and pared-down techniques. He directed the animated series, Les Aventures de Gédéon (1976, based on Benjamin Rabier’s work), then used characters and backgrounds made with lacy paper in his first professional short film, Les Trois Inventeurs (1979). This highly original film was rewarded with a BAFTA in London. Since this film, Michel Ocelot has written the screenplays and done the artwork of all his creations. After this, came the following short films: Les Filles de l’égalité (1981) which won the Special Jury Prize at the Albi Festival, Beyond Oil (1982) and La Légende du Pauvre Bossu (1982 – César for Best Animated Film). Michel Ocelot returned to the TV series format with La Princesse Insensible (1986) comprising 13 x 4-minute episodes, and directed the short film Les Quatre Voeux (1987). His third series, Ciné Si, (1989 – 8 x 12- minute episodes) was animated with the shadow theater technique: carefully cut-out black paper silhouettes. Several of these sequences later appeared in Princes & Princesses (2000).

He wrote the 26-minute film, Les Contes de la nuit (1992), made up of three sequences, then embarked upon the adventure of his first feature film. In 1998, the general public became aware of Michel Ocelot, thanks to the huge box-office and critical success of Kirikou and the Sorceress. The film's popularity was so
great that it led Michel Ocelot to relate more of his little hero’s adventures in Kirikou and the Wild Beasts (2005) which he co-directed with Bénédicte Galup.

Azur & Asmar, minutely prepared from 2001 on, is a project full of new experiences: Michel Ocelot worked with a live-action producer (Christophe Rossignon, of Nord Ouest), chose to combine 3D and 2D, and brought together his production and animation team in Paris, the town where he lives. Unlike most other French animation productions, Azur & Asmar was made entirely in Paris.

Michel Ocelot was also President of the ASIFA (International Animated Film Association) from 1994 to 2000.

website dedicated to Michel Ocelot


Michel Ocelot   Allocine profile page (in French) Translate this page


Michel Ocelot - Random Dance - Collaborators  brief bio from Random Dance


ReAnimania  profile page


Michel Ocelot - Director, Screenwriter, Production Designer ...  brief bio from UniFrance


Le Palais des dessins animés: Bienvenue  Michel Ocelot short films


Hidden treasure of michel ocelot short films / Masters of ...  Animafest 2010


Michel Ocelot   The Auteurs


GalliaWatch: The Ocelot Syndrome   Tiberge from Gallia Watch, October 25, 2006


FILM PICKS: Top 5 Animated Films - France Today  September 1, 2008 : Animated Shorts - A French Master and His New Film  Steve Fritz feature and interview with the director, from Newsarama, March 12, 2009


Tips from an animation master, Michel Ocelot « Film Parade  May 1, 2009


Imagine at Annecy - Ocelot   Simon’s Blog from Imagine, June 13, 2009


Paper Goes to the Movies  Claire Lui from Print magazine, October 29, 2009


Interview de Michel Ocelot   Interview by Orianne Charpentier (2005)


Azur and Asmar: The Prince's Quest - interview with Michel Ocelot ...   Interview from The List, January 31, 2008


Sunil Doshi » In conversation with Michel OCELOT, Director, Azur ...  Sunil Doshi interview in Mumbai, April 14, 2008


Michel Ocelot interview   Ghibli World interview, August 2008


The Evening Class: ANIMATION: <em>AZUR & ASMAR</em>—A Few ...  Michael Guillen interview from The Evening Class, March 8, 2009, also here:  Twitch


Interview with Michel Ocelot  2009  (pdf format)


Interview with Björk and stills from "Earth Intruders" video  Michel Ocelot music video


SiouxWIRE: Video for BJÖRK's Earth Intruders from MICHEL OCELOT  on YouTube (3:57)


all cartoons animation 2d 3d Videos - Dailymotion  YouTube clips from Daily Motion


Michel Ocelot - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS (Kirikou et la sorcière)   A                     96

France  Belgium  Luxembourg  (74 mi)  1998   (Trailer 7.5 MB Quicktime version)       Official Kirikou and the Sorceress website


 Kirikou is tiny but he is mighty


A delightful, ravishingly beautiful children’s story starring a precocious young child that speaks to its mother while still in the womb.  Set in a small African village where women remain naked from the waist up, and where, according to legend, the men have supposedly been eaten by the mean and evil Sorceress, who has also plugged up their water supply.  Using the bright, bold colors of a sunlit culture resembling the naive tableaux style of paintings by Henri Rousseau, known for his richly colored and gorgeously detailed pictures of lush jungles, wild animals, and exotic figures set in an almost dreamlike paradise, this is one of the more beautiful animated films ever made, featuring a very clever young naked baby, Kirikou, who seems to have supernatural running ability, yet also a charmingly inquisitive nature, confounding all the adults around who have resigned themselves to accepting things the way they are.  When Kirikou asks why the Sorceress is so mean, they scold him for asking such a question that small children couldn’t ever understand.  Yet on the day of his birth, Kirikou demonstrates he’s remarkably clever and quite capable of outsmarting anyone.


Despite his desire to be helpful, the other children have a way of ignoring Kirikou, claiming he is too small and not worth paying attention to, even as he warns them of lurking dangers.  They laugh and play without him, but at their peril, as the Sorceress devises clever means of her own to snatch up the village children.  But Kirikou magically saves the day, which is followed by celebratory song and dance, as they invent a song praising the wisdom and bravery of young Kirikou.  Yet just as quickly, they’re ignoring him again, insulting him and calling him names while they run off and play, once more ignoring his warnings.  Not only the children, but the adults as well continue to believe what they’re used to, which is to see a world filled with rumor and prejudice, and ignore the truth behind everything. 


Kirikou goes on a perilous journey where he searches for the secret behind the Sorceress’s meanness, and much of it is expressed through lavishly beautiful flowers and animals, which offer an allure, yet also a dangerous side as well.  Kirikou must find his way among the many dangers while also cleverly managing to survive, which amounts to taming the natural wilderness around him and unlocking the keys to his own destiny as well.  Respectful of its unique setting, the percussive rhythms and musical score by Senegalese legend Youssou N'Dour lend an authenticity to the West African landscape, offering insight into the native culture that is never exploitive or dismissive, that is driven instead by oral traditions and customs.  But it’s the warmhearted humor and wit that matches the elegant look of the film, always surprising the audience with inventive storytelling and a young lead character who is magically appealing.  


Time Out review

Not before time, the kids are taking over. Well, grown-ups these days just don't cut it. Or if not kids, then a kid... Neatly dovetailing with the sentiments of Whale Rider, this animated elaboration of a Senegalese folk tale brings us (pace Rick Moranis) surely cinema's smallest hero - Kirikou, a preternaturally walking, talking, indefatigable newborn. Not one to beat around the bush, Kirikou summons his own birth aloud from inside his mother in the first minute of the film, and he's no sooner out in the world than trying to remedy it. He emerges into a village short on gold, water and menfolk, all these and more requisitioned by Karaba, the implacable sorceress down the way. 'Why?', Kirikou demands to know, and not taking 'you're too young to understand' for an answer, he quickly progresses from freeing his uncle and fellow children from the enchantress's clutches to hatching a plan to dig beneath Karaba's encampment to the wise man of the mountain on the other side. All this, and still the villagers doubt his worth... At least they know how to beat the drum when fortune favours them (music courtesy of Youssou N'Dour). The directors animates the tale in a simple but unsparing chromatic style, typically using two-dimensional profile perspectives. Perhaps they've taken a lesson from the protagonist: for all the film's sense of magic, Kirikou turns out to be a level-headed logician at heart, thinking out his dilemmas in delightful internal monologues. It's a great package: salutary, short (74 minutes) and sweet.

Kirikou and the Sorceress on DVD and video  Sight and Sound (link lost)

Kirikou is tiny but he is mighty"    Song from Kirikou and the Sorceress

Introducing a new children's champion, Kirikou and the Sorceress, a magical treat.

A huge hit in France and joint winner (along with Chicken Run) in 2002 of the British Animation Award for best European animated feature, Kirikou and the Sorceress is a children's animated film that is a world away from Disney.

Based on a traditional West African folk tale, Kirikou and the Sorceress is the story of innocence defeating evil, with a modern twist. Glittering with gold and exuding malevolence, Karaba is a sorceress who has eaten the men-folk of the village and dried up the spring. No-one seems able to stop her until a remarkable baby is born. The tiny but brave Kirikou delivers himself from his mother's womb to emerge walking and talking and undertakes a perilous journey in order to disarm the sorceress by discovering the cause of her own pain.

Writer-director Michel Ocelot's rich animation plunges his audience deep into the myth and spirituality of the African bush. The animation style and setting are unapologetically African with no attempts to westernise the people or setting. From emerald jungles to the glowing hellfire of Karaba's lair, Kirikou's world is a kaleidoscope of joyous colour. The drawings of plants and trees are stylised reproductions of real tropical flora, inspired by Egyptian drawings and the paintings of Henri Rousseau.

The soundtrack by internationally renowned Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour gives an authentic pulse to what he calls "the mythical Africa of children's tales." Kirikou and the Sorceress, the only film to attract his talents, features only traditional African instruments. The music and voices were recorded in his Dakar studio.

The New York Times (Elvis Mitchell) review

Mother, bring me into the world," demands Kirikou, the infant protagonist of the animated fable "Kirikou and the Sorceress." Like its tiny hero, "Kirikou" proceeds at its own pace, and that pace is a more willful and slower piece of storytelling than children are accustomed to getting from American animated films, in which emotional crises are worked out like story problems (if Buzz and Woody need to get to point A ...).

The director Michel Ocelot's belief in his film is as winning as his title character's confidence, even though "Kirikou" is probably a story more suitable for younger children than for older ones.

Kirikou tells his mother when he's ready to be born and then pops out, a rambunctious can-do charmer who's constitutionally incapable of being defeated. This fairy tale, based on a West African legend, sends its indomitable little-boy hero with a ridge of sculptured hair atop his head on his way to outwit the evil sorceress Karaba and her minions: grim, obedient fetish objects and a thirsty beast that consumes all the water in sight.

It's wonderful and rare to see an African landscape rendered for an animated film and not have any of the characters voiced by white mainstream American movie stars, or hear any Broadway approximations of African music. The rhythms of "Kirikou" are aided by the lyric pulse of Youssou N'Dour's score, which lends the story an airy exuberance. The music does some of Ocelot's work for him.

Ocelot's style of illustration often uses a regal rigidity. His characters are frequently captured in profile, rendered as if they were pictograms created by the artist Romare Bearden. It's a full-scale delivery of animation with its own cultural imperative.

This gives the movie an odd delicacy, especially in scenes when "Kirikou" is most effective, as when Karaba's fetish figures -- blockish and frightening -- charge onto the screen. This scene and shots of Karaba -- her burning amber eyes match the gold jewelry she wears, tribute she has forced villagers into surrendering -- have a haunted serenity, instead of the anarchic pop-pop-pop that even the most tepid American feature-length cartoons provide.

"Kirikou and the Sorceress" has a modesty of scale that limits its power, even with the occasional glimpses of fairy-tale horror (with a primal earthiness reminiscent of "Princess Mononoke") that peek through. The formality of both the dialogue and the visuals also vaguely suggests the earliest Japanese anime to reach America, stuff like "Astro Boy" or "Gigantor," though stripped of the action.

It's more a piece to admire than to be involved by, yet it's easy to imagine children hypnotized by a hero tinier than they are when "Kirikou" is continually loaded into the VCR.

Kirikou and the Sorceress | Animation World Network  Philippe Moins


KIRIKOU AND THE SORCERESS, Taiwanese Regionfree LE DVD ...  Ard Vijn from Screen Anarchy


DVD Times  Anthony Nield


Moria - The science fiction, horror and fantasy movie review site ...  Richard Scheib


10 great fairytale films | BFI


Sci-Fi Weekly review  Matthew McGowan


Eye for Film (Amber Wilkinson) review [4/5]


Eye for Film (Jennie Kermode) review [3.5/5]


Movie Gazette (Anton Bitel) dvd review [9/10]


Jon Popick review


Movierapture [Keith Allen]


Christian Science Monitor (David Sterritt) review


Kirikou and the Sorceress | Chicago Reader  Ted Shen


RFI Musique - - Manu Dibango meets Kirikou  RFI Musique interviews film composer Manu Dibango, December 27, 2005


TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4/5]


Film [Ali Catterall]


Guardian/Observer review


The Globe and Mail review [3.5/4]  Liam Lacey


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]


Washington Post (Michael O'Sullivan) review


San Francisco Examiner (Wesley Morris) review


San Francisco Chronicle (Peter Stack) review


BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14 - Wikipedia                 


France  (70 mi)  2000


Variety (Eddie Cockrell) review

Another whimsical, deceptively simple exercise from Intl. Animated Film Society prez Michel Ocelot, "Princes and Princesses" might not attain the worldwide penetration of the French animator's 1998 hit, "Kirikou and the Sorceress," but still has the ability to charm at fests, in specialty situations and on the tube and homevid.

Utilizing an evocative style of black silhouetted figures against vibrant washes of color, Ocelot puts forth the setup of a teacher urging an inquisitive boy and girl to use their imaginations and magical machines to act out series of short tales. The stories involve various permutations of the plucky, problem-solving title royalty. Each begins in a proscenium frame and affords Ocelot the chance to illustrate a different period, including an unspecified Romanesque wood, ancient Egypt, 19th-century Japan, the year 3000 and a Grimm-era tale in which kisses turn the duo various animals (pic's funniest sequence). There's even a minute-long break built in at the half-hour mark, presumably for discussion. Tech credits are straightforward for the form, although the sparse visual style may keep pic from traveling beyond animation aficionados and kiddie auds fluent in the film's simple French. (Mark Zimmer) dvd review

Lotte Reininger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed, with its amazing animation of paper silhouettes, was a true revelation about the possibilities of the medium that were already being recognized in the 1920s. Acclaimed animator Michel Ocelot tries his hand at the same style of work (though not necessarily using the same primitive tools as Reininger).

The film tells the stories of six princes and/or princesses in various settings. The framing story is itself a flight of imagination as two young animators (Arlette Mirape and Philipe Cheytion), working under Yves Barsaco, design the stories and costumes that will be involved in each. A mechanism transforms each of them into the characters of the story, who then proceed to act out the tales, which have a distinct fairy tale feel. The first story, The Princess of Diamonds, is a traditional quest tale about a cursed princess who has been frozen into place until someone comes along who can retrieve the 111 diamonds that have fallen from her necklace in the time allotted—but anyone who fails will be turned into an ant. This episode offers some gorgeous moments, particularly of the diamonds sparkling against the grass. Ancient Egypt is the setting for the second tale, The Fig Boy, as Hatshepsut, a female, is greeted by a young boy who offers a gift each day of a fig ripening in the dead of winter. But the pharaoh's jealous intendant is determined to win the queen's favor, and her return gifts for himself. This episode includes some of the best characterization in the picture, with the paper silhouette of the pharaoh offering palpable delight at the flavor of the fig.

The Sorceress is an amusing tale about patience, as a king offers the hand of his daughter to whomever can enter the impregnable castle of a sorceress. The endless methods that the other competitors try to storm the castle are highly creative, and the animation of flames and the like is quite effective. The Old Lady's Coat is a story about 19th century Japan, which uses the designs of Hokusai to excellent effect. In this story, an old widow with a fine coat is taken for a ride by a robber, but the robber finds that the old lady is more than he bargained for as she forces him to carry her on his back, and adding insult to injury she recites her poetry at him. The segment has a good deal of the delicate work seen in Prince Achmed and it's often breathtakingly beautiful. The Cruel Queen and the Fabulo Trainer is a brief but effective tale of the year 3000 centering around the singing creature called a Fabulo, and a trainer who bets his life that before the end of the day he will be with the Queen.

The final segment is Prince and Princess, a quite hilarious take on the story of the frog prince. Reminded that a kiss turned a frog into a prince, the princess finds out that her kiss turns a prince into a frog, and things quickly deteriorate from there as the two progress through an ever funnier succession of creatures as they desperately try to kiss their way back to human form. The detail of the silhouettes here is particularly dazzling. Better than the other segments, it captures the handmade yet incongruously baroque flavor that makes Prince Achmed such a delight. Thoroughly enjoyable for young and old, the main detraction for the younger set is the omission of an English language voiceover.

DVD Talk (John Sinnott) dvd review [2/5]


SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [4/5]  Richard Scheib


Movierapture [Keith Allen]


Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [2.5/5]  Phil Hall


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review


StateMaster - Encyclopedia: Princes et princesses


The Onion A.V. Club [Tasha Robinson]  also reviewing KIRIKOU AND THE WILD BEAST


Princes et princesses - Michel Ocelot  Brian Montgomery from DVDBeaver


Princes et princesses - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


KIRIKOU AND THE WILD BEASTS (Kirikou et les Bêtês Sauvages)

France  (74 mi)  2005  co-director:  Bénédicte Galup     Official site


The Onion A.V. Club [Tasha Robinson]

French writer-animator Michel Ocelot deals exclusively in fables and fairy tales, but he presents them with a blunt directness that seems antithetical to the genre. Instead, it winds up enhancing it. In his best-known film, 1998's phenomenal African folk tale Kirikou And The Sorceress, the characters speak with a clipped, aggressive gravity that becomes its own form of wry humor. They're dealing with preposterous events—a little naked hero who speaks to his mother from inside the womb, then crawls out, severs his own umbilical, and runs off at supersonic speeds to save his village from a malevolent witch—but they're dismissive about mere magic, which they take as a given part of life. Accepting their own petty natures and learning about generosity of spirit proves far more complicated.

Ocelot's 2005 semi-sequel, Kirikou And The Wild Beast, retains the gorgeously detailed visuals and that hilarious tonal bluntness, but loses much of the compelling mystery, and the urgency of life-and-death situations. A series of short stories designed to take place in the middle of the first film, it begins with a typically straightforward introduction, as a character snaps that Kirikou And The Sorceress was "too short," and says that he has more Kirikou tales to tell. But those who haven't seen the first film will be lost amid the short stories' oddities, and those who have may find it hard to drop back to earlier points in the characters' development, and watch them recapitulate earlier dumb mistakes, this time with pettier stakes. Wild Beast is the Tales From Watership Down of the animation world—a pleasant but utterly inessential adjunct to an enduring classic.

Ocelot's earlier anthology Princes And Princesses, while less visually ambitious, is a great deal more fun. Alone in an office, three animators—a grizzled old mentor and two mildly egotistical assistants—devise fairy tales, then costume themselves (via a creepily simple machine) and play out their stories onstage. The frame story could use some development—like Wild Beast, Princes barely tops an hour long, in spite of packaging proclaiming a longer run time—but the stories are terrifically creative, tight little fillips, ranging from a 19th-century Japanese fable to a far-future love story to a silly fantasy about a prince and princess who change shapes whenever they kiss. The animation reproduces Lotte Reiniger's pioneering silhouette style, but the material is pure Ocelot: funny, sharp, and endearingly grounded, no matter how fanciful the concepts get. (Mark Zimmer) dvd review

Michel Ocelot's diminuitive Senegalese hero Kirikou returns in this sequel to Kirikou and the Sorceress. Having outwitted the sorceress Karaba (Awa Sene Sarr) by getting water for his village, Kirikou (Pierre Ndoffe Sarr) thinks that he will live in happiness and peace. But as his grandfather (Robert Liensol) recounts, his adventures are just beginning. This picture collects four West African folk tales as the struggles of Kirikou and his village continue against the wicked sorceress.

The story picks up right from the end of the earlier film, as Kirikou directs water to the village's vegetable garden, which quickly thrives from his attention and the water. But one night the garden is utterly destroyed by a wild beast that may have been sent by Karaba to wreak havoc. Kirikou alone is willing to discover the nature of the beast, a massive black hyena, and solve the mystery of why such a meat-eater would disturb their vegetable garden. The second tale shows the village attempting to earn money in order to buy food, after the destruction of their garden. Kirikou hits upon the plan of making pots to sell in the nearby town, and soon everyone is helping out with pottery, which they begin to tote on their heads to the town. But when they run across a water buffalo and decide that it will make a good beast of burden, Kirikou's suspicions and warnings go unheeded.

The third tale is the most adventurous, as Karaba determines that the best way to defeat Kirikou is to lure him out of the village by using his curiosity against him. Odd bird footprints do the trick as Kirikou is soon out of the protection of the village and finds himself surrounded by Karaba's fetish army. In the final tale, he uses that army against Karaba. When the women of the village, including his mother (Marie-Philomène Nga), fall ill, the cure rests with a yellow flower found only near Karaba's compound. Kirikou decides that the best way to save the women is to disguise himself as a fetish and make his way in to retrieve the medicinal flowers.

Once again, the picture has gorgeous design that is harmonious with the West African source materials. Color tends heavily towards brown and yellow, with a turquoise sky that emphasizes the equatorial sun. Ocelot's visuals have a nice combination of naturalism and stylization that serves the subject matter well. Traditional costuming is on display, which means that there's National Geographic-style nudity on display throughout, with bare-breasted women and nude children (including little Kirikou).

Characterization is pretty well demonstrated, with small moments that reveal much. Samples of these include the fiery temper of Karaba as she is outwitted, or Kirikou's childish delight at tasting honey and licking it from his fingers. He also has a nice moment of compassion as he tends to an injured ground squirrel. His speedy movement is almost ridiculous and lends an air of lightness to the proceedings. The wild beast of the title is suitably scary, though it occasionally is reduced to money-saving cycling, which is a little jarring against its otherwise naturalistic movements. But on the whole it's quite masterfully accomplished and an interesting glimpse into traditional Senegalese life. The running time is nearly 25 minutes shorter than the box's claimed 95 minute running time, however.

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3.5/5]  Richard Scheib

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

Variety (Lisa Nesselson) review

AZUR & ASMAR                                                     B                     86

aka:  The Prince’s Quest

France  Spain  Italy  Belgium  (99 mi)  2006


A sumptuously beautiful film, as would be expected, with an underlying social theme about encountering prejudicial differences when various races, religions, or cultures mix, where, interestingly enough, the end credits list people from two dozen nations that contributed to the making of the film, adding that they “all got along well.”  This strategy is overly obvious and actually detracts from the overall impact of the film.  Instead, there are moments of dazzling imagery, but the storyline loses momentum by the end when it simply runs out of ideas.  Two legendary Japanese directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki, incorporate similar human conflicts with both technology, nuclear power, global war, and the idea of living in harmony with nature, yet the quality of their filmmaking (arguably) did not suffer as a result.  Not so here, as the luscious visuals are extraordinary, adding a highly decorative Arabian Nights splendor, but the cardboard characters never evolve into anything truly interesting, remaining something close to stereotypical depictions that end up dragging the entire film down.  One of the problems with choosing a subject purely for what it represents to the audience, such as a light skinned or dark skinned person, a person who is good or evil, is that they can never be anything else, as they are stuck in this singular categorization.          


This film feels more like a sketch or outline of a story, or perhaps the victim of serious editing to keep the length down, as entire threads are either never explained, such as the abusive behavior of the near missing father who throws them out of their original home, or how their mother, who was herself a servant, now has servants of her own and is feared by all while living like a queen in most immaculately beautiful home in the land, made scant reference to, as angry mobs are upset throughout, but other than alleged superstition and a hatred for blue eyes, we never understand what they’re so upset about and why they’d wish to kill anyone, or forgotten altogether, such as the future lies in the hands of the young princess, mentioned several times and then eventually forgotten.  Using a Shakespearean Twelfth Night or Pericles template where two young boys are raised by the same woman as brothers, one Arabic speaking and dark skinned, the other English speaking, pale skinned with blue eyes, are separated at an early age, eventually finding each other as young adults years later after a long and arduous journey involving a shipwreck and a cultural disaster leaving one of the boys a stranger in a strange land.  What’s interesting is that before any reunification can begin, both immediately decide to set out on yet another journey in search of the Djiin Fairy imprisoned under a cavernous mountain, a character from a song their mother used to sing to them, where their intentions are not only to rescue her, but win her hand in marriage.


While their mother’s home resembles the architectural perfection of the Alhambra, filled with the integrated harmony of birds, flowers, continually flowing water, and delicately designed Moorish mosaics, their journey takes them across vast deserts into the mountains where people inexplicably behave just as crudely and violently as the land where they began.  They must endure fights against hordes of angry men, discover the clues to secret passageways, and finally make the correct choice between several possible entranceways, where the wrong choice could mean their lives.  The colors and magical creatures are endlessly inventive, though the two princes, despite their bravery and nobility of spirit, are more one-dimensional and never reveal any surprises.  When all is said and done, the end is nearly a mockery of an end, as it goes on and on like the mind-altering, run-on sagas of the SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965), emerging with an all too simplistic, feel good, Disney like finale.  The film relies on a healthy dose of Arabic music, much of it gentle and hypnotic, but unlike KIRIKOU, it barely scratches the surface when it comes to offering an appreciation for the history and culture of the region.  Also of interest, in the screening at the Film Center, there wasn’t single child in the audience, which certainly suggests one of the targeted audiences for this film is not being reached.   


Azur & Asmar  JR Jones from The Reader

Digital animators are naturally taken with their newfound power to render depth of field, which may be why this sophisticated 2-D fantasy by veteran French animator Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) seems so extraordinary. Though carefully shaded, his digital characters are firmly rooted in the cutout tradition, and their flattened bodies seem to merge with the dazzling backgrounds, which are steeped in the bold color and elaborate patterns of Islamic art. For his story Ocelot recycles standard fairy-tale elements into a cross-cultural fable about a French boy and a Moroccan boy who join forces on a mystical quest. It's pretty two-dimensional as well, but the movie, like the art that inspired it, is all about the ornamentation. In French with subtitles. 94 min.

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review

French director Michel Ocelot has reportedly spent about seven years working on this beguiling animated fable, and the densely layered and vividly coloured images he conjures up are like the illustrations from a much-loved children's book. In the manner of the Thousand and One Nights, the movie tells the story of two friends, as close as brothers: Azur and Asmar. One is the son of a nobleman, the other the son of the north African nurse who brings them up, and enraptures them with tales of a Djinn fairy awaiting the love of a prince to release her from an enchantment. Harshly separated in their teens, the rich young man travels to the Orient where he finds his friend again, and they travel onward on a mission to find this mythical Djinn princess. It has real charm: an old-fashioned looking movie, but with a heartfelt belief that, pace Kipling, east and west can and should meet.

Village Voice (Michelle Orange) review

With its delicate, fairy-tale bones and layer of politically conscious muscle, Azur and Asmar is a sleek and yet slightly unwieldy animal. The fourth animated feature from French director Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress), Azur's hybrid appeal should be one of its strongest selling points but proves its weakest: The lessons of cultural intolerance are pitched simply enough for children to understand, yet the execution lacks the schmoozy wit and splashy visuals to keep them entertained; adults will find the elegant combination of cut-out and CGI animation bewitching but the thematics unsubtle, at best. Azur and Asmar are introduced as babes at the breast of an Arab woman (nanny of the former, mother of the latter) in an unspecified Anglo land. Raised as brothers, Azur is an Aryan wet dream, while Asmar is brown like his mum. The boys are separated by Azur's unaccountably evil father, but meet years later in an unspecified Arab land, both chasing a childhood fable that involves freeing a fairy princess. Azur is feared by the Arabs for his blue eyes, a sort of reverse racism that causes him to feign blindness, and all of the Arabic dialogue is untranslated, heightening his feeling of isolation. Aside from a visual shout-out to Jesus and a mention of madrasas and mosques, Ocelot skirts religious questions altogether, offering a moral about ethnic differences, with interracial dating as "the answer for a harmonious future."

Time Out Chicago (Hank Sartin) review [4/6]

French animator Ocelot’s style is so distinct from most American animation that it seems like an entirely different art form. In Azur & Asmar, Ocelot takes advantage of computer animation’s strengths (moving the point of view from, say, a low angle looking up at a character to a God’s-eye perspective in one gorgeous swoop), but he also mixes complex backgrounds that often look like collages with flat planes of color for characters’ clothes, a choice that stresses the two-dimensionality of the film. (Animation buffs will spot the influence of Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 silhouette animation film The Adventures of Prince Achmed.) And, with a rich use of Islamic architectural detail, the film nearly explodes with lush detail. Have we mentioned that this thing is gorgeous?

The plot follows Azur, blond, blue-eyed European, and Asmar, the Arab son of Azur’s nanny. In a loosely defined Middle Ages, the boys are raised like brothers, complete with sibling rivalry. As adults, they meet again when both have set out on a quest to free the djinn fairy. It may take a while to adjust to Ocelot’s slower pacing, but once you surrender your Disney-and-Pixar-trained expectation of wacky cuteness (like the jumbo-sloth humans who mar the second half of WALL•E), Azur & Asmar is utterly enchanting.

Twitch (Todd Brown) review

We have been very outspoken supporters of French animator Michel Ocelot in these pages for some time now.  With his deceptively simple stories that reveal layers upon layers of meaning with repeated viewings Ocelot calls to mind master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki on more than one level, a similarity that Miyazaki himself seems to have noticed given that his Studio Ghibli has championed Ocelot’s films throughout Japan.  It is his African folk tale Kirikou and the Sorceress that first drew serious international attention to Ocelot’s work and armed with a very different animation style the master is returning to Africa once again - albeit a very different part of Africa - for his latest effort, Azur and Asmar.

Playing like an excerpt of Arabian Nights, Azur and Asmar is an Arabic based fairy tale revolving around a pair of young men - the upper class European Azur and the servant class Arab Asmar.  Different classes they may be but the two boys grew up together as virtual brothers with Asmar’s mother hired on to be Azur’s wet nurse and nanny.  And so, much to Azur’s father’s chagrin, the young boy grew up with the lower class foreigner as his constant playmate and chief rival, learned to speak Arabic in his childhood and was raised on a steady diet of Arabic folk tales.  Key among those tales, the story of the Djinn Fairy - a magical princess imprisoned inside a mountain awaiting a brave prince to come and save her, a prince who she would then marry. 

As the boys grow the class distinctions inevitably raise their ugly heads until, finally, Azur’s father loses his temper with both his son and the nanny, sending the son off to the city to learn from a proper tutor while throwing Asmar and his mother out onto the streets with only the clothes on their backs.  Though years pass Azur never forgets the stories he learned as a child and when the time comes that he has rown enough to be independent he declares to his father that he is leaving home and setting off across the ocean on a quest to rescue the Djinn Fairy from his childhood stories.  And off he goes, only to be swept off his boat and washed ashore penniless, shunned by the locals who - thanks to superstition - fear his bright blue eyes.

Shunned and scorned Azur clenches his eyes shut and swears to live life as a blind man.  Since arriving in the country he has seen nothing but ugliness and his eyes have brought him nothing but pain and so he puts them away.  Luckily he is ‘adopted’ by a fellow foreign beggar who offers to act as his guide and takes him to the city to beg a living and in the city, of course, Azur is reunited with his nanny - who has never forgotten the boy she raised as her own and welcomes him warmly - and Asmar, who has never forgiven Azur’s family for his rough treatment and expulsion.  Unwilling allies the two young men set off on their quest ...

A visually dazzling film - easily the most impressive visual piece of work in Ocelot’s career - Azur and Asmar takes a bit of time to hit its stride.  The pacing in the early going is clumsy, Azur’s father a single-note charicature and the relationship between the two boys rushed and overly simplified.  But once the film finds itself - right around the time that Azur finds himself washed ashore penniless - it is pure magic.  Ocelot is smart enough to recognize that the power of mth and legend lies at least partially in its simplicity and he refuses to clutter up the narrative with unnecessary devices.  The story telling is lean with minimal dialogue serving to bolster the jaw-dropping imagery.  But lean in no way implies weak.  Ocelot may not like to waste words but those he does use are used to great effect.  His regular themes of diversity and tolerance are woven subtly throughout the film, as are issues of love and honor and family.  I don’t believe it’s an accident that Ocelot chose to make a film set in an age where the Arab world was the most tolerant and culturally diverse in the world in our current political climate but as much as he clearly wishes to make that point he is also wise enough to make it subtly and not overwhelm the core story, the story of the Djinn Fairy.

The quest for the Fairy follows all of the classic quest motifs and does so beautifully well, a perfect example of why quest stories still hold so much power.  The two boys learn, grow and change throughout their journies, emerging at the end as much better and wiser men for the experience.  And the journey itself is sheer magic for all ages, the encounter between Azur and a shockingly crimson colored lion with bright blue claws being a particular favorite.  The artwork and design is stunning, unlike anything you have seen in western animation before, a riotous shock of color and geometry designed to showcase both the beauty of nature and the classic patterns of Arabic design and tile work.

The slow opening keeps Azur and Asmar from hitting quite as high a peak as does the first Kirikou film but it is, nonetheless, clearly the work of a master. 

Eye for Film (Anton Bitel) review [4.5/5]

"This film was made in Paris, by people from different backgrounds who all got along well."

You will find this message amidst the closing credits to Michel Ocelot's Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest, followed by a list of the 25 different nationalities represented by the film's cast and crew. It is not merely a piece of ethnographic trivia, but a statement that perfectly summarises a film thoroughly committed to the virtues of pluralism and multiculturalism in creating a better world.

Like Ocelot's breakthrough animated feature Kirikou And The Sorceress (1998), Azur & Asmar employs a fairytale 'quest' frame to explore humankind's twin capacity for shallow prejudice and open-minded wisdom - but where the earlier film reduced our global village to a tiny African community, this latest film is set on a much larger canvas, with a much richer, computer-generated palette. It is a tale of two races, two cultures, two continents, two languages - and of two 'princes' who achieve their regal status through worth rather than birth.

Blonde, blue-eyed baby Azur may live in the country, and the country house, of his father, a wealthy French widower, but he is brought up by his North African wet-nurse Jenane alongside her own baby boy Asmar. Jenane always treats both boys as equals, but their young years and skin-deep differences create rivalries, until eventually Azur's father removes the French boy altogether from the influence of Jenane and her son - by brusquely kicking them off his property.

Now, years later, the adult Azur has all but forgotten the Arabic taught to him by Jenane, but he still remembers her enchanting stories of a beautiful Djinn fairy imprisoned deep within a black mountain - and so he sets off on a quest to liberate and marry her. Shipwrecked on the shores of Jenane's land, mistreated by superstitious locals, and reduced to a lowly beggar, Azur almost abandons all hope from the outset and determines never to look upon the world again, until a chance encounter with his fellow countryman, the narrow-minded arch-cynic Crapoux, guides him to the nearby medina, whose many sensory pleasures Azur can appreciate even with his eyes closed.

There he is reunited with Jenane, now a rich merchant, and resumes his quest, with useful advice from the Jewish scholar Yadoa, the precocious Princess Chamsous Sabah (herself, like the Djinn fairy, held as a cloistered prisoner against her will), and even from Crapoux. But will Azur be helped or hindered by Asmar, who is also seeking to free the fairy? And will they all be able to deliver the city from its blind prejudices and tendencies towards self-destruction?

The first thing that will strike any viewer of Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest is its dazzling, painterly colours, whose ostentatious exuberance has little parallel in animation. The spice market is a mottled haven of reds, oranges and yellows, Jenane's garden is a sea of soothing greens, the Princess' palace is an Escher-like illusion of blacks and whites, while the Djinn fairy's underground chamber is an all-encompassing shadow-world that suddenly explodes into a display of every colour under the sun.

Indeed colour forms a central motif in the story, starting with the difference in the hue of the boys' skin - although when both lads are covered from head to toe in mud, Azur's racist father is unable to tell them apart, and as Jenane will later remark, "their blood is the same colour". The local Africans' superstitions focus upon blue eyes, while Crapoux is terrified of black cats. An early argument between the boys as to which is the more handsome (and whose country is superior) is followed by the vision of a rainbow in the sky. Shortly before Azur is reconciled to his long-lost 'mother' Jenane, his white garments and face are accidentally (but significantly) bespattered by a kaleidoscope of spices.

Yet even as Azur, at his lowest point, feigns blindness to avoid witnessing all the ugliness around him, Ocelot's film deploys its hyperchromatic aesthetic to suggest the very opposite: that beauty, harmony and enlightenment reside in opening one's eyes and mind to the brilliant variety that the world has to offer - including, paradoxically, ugliness itself. Crapoux may seem ridiculous when he complains that the medina's exquisite dye markets "don't have grey" - but Ocelot's egalitarian vision can happily accommodate even the perspective of so absurdly blinkered a character, and in the end revere the opinion of one "who thinks differently" alongside everyone else's. In this moral landscape, you see, the shades of grey are just as essential to the overall ideological spectrum as the most eye-goggling primary colours.

Set against such lavish backgrounds, Ocelot's characters can at times seem a little bland - an impression that is not aided by the relatively inchoate way in which they (and more particularly their costumes) have been drawn, making them two-dimensional not just in the literal sense. For some, this visual contrast between setting and person, though a familiar feature in much Japanese animation or indeed in video games, may prove a somewhat grating stylisation in what is otherwise a true feast for the eyes - but Ocelot has so captivating a story to tell that such quibbles are quickly left behind.

Though Azur and Asmar's adventures unfold in the Middle Ages, they reflect with great intelligence and sensitivity upon issues confronting today's globe: the conflicts that emerge from differences of class, sex, race and religion, and more particularly the divisions between the West and Islam. In his magical, awe-inspiring tale, Ocelot imagines a utopia where such differences might be both acknowledged and embraced in a dance of colour. He also, however, has the good sense to confine such a utopia to a land of dreams and the realms of fairytale – where perhaps, at least until we come to realise that the same fraternal and regal blood courses through all our veins, utopia will always belong.

DVD Times [Anthony Nield]


Film Journey  Doug Cummings


Fabulist of filmmaking  Nigel Andrews from The Financial Times


Twitch (Ard Vijn) dvd review  which also includes an interview by Peter van der Lugt did with Michel Ocelot


Animated Shorts: Michel Ocelot's Azur and Asmar  Steve Fritz frim Newsarama (Peter Sobczynski) review [5/5] (Boyd van Hoeij) review


Bina007 Movie Reviews


Salon (Andrew O'Hehir) review


Animated Views » Azur & Asmar: Michel Ocelot's Quest For Tolerance


AWN Showcase - Michel Ocelot  photos from Animated World Network


Variety (Leslie Felperin) review


Time Out London (Derek Adams) review [4/6]


Time Out New York (Elisabeth Vincentelli) review [5/6]


'Azur & Asmar' stars the voices of Steven Kyman, Nigel Pilkington ...  Michael Phillips from The Chicago Tribune


The New York Times review  Nathan Lee


One Thousand and One Nights - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

O’Connor, Gavin



USA  (102 mi)  1999


BFI | Sight & Sound | Tumbleweeds (1999)  Demetrios Matheou from Sight and Sound, March 2000

The Walkers are a two-unit family: mother Mary Jo is a spirited Southerner and serial spouse who flees town whenever a relationship breaks down; Ava is her 12-year-old daughter, an intelligent child buffeted by her mother's erratic love life.

Following the failure of her last relationship, Mary Jo again uproots herself and Ava and moves to Starlight Beach, near San Diego. There she gets a job as a secretary and Ava enrols in the local school. Mary Jo soon hooks up with Jack, a trucker. Despite a promising beginning, the relationship soon crumbles and Mary Jo decides to leave Starlight Beach. This time Ava, who has developed strong friendships at school, refuses to go with her. She runs away, hiding out at the home of Dan, a work colleague of Mary Jo. Mary Jo finally realises that it is time to put down roots with her child. The two are reconciled. Only then does Mary Jo notice the sensitive Dan, who has been attracted to her all along. Together, they go to see Ava's successful performance as Romeo in a school production of Romeo and Juliet.


Sandwiched between the visceral New York films which established his career, Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese made Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. A road movie about a newly widowed woman who sets out to find a new life with a young son in tow, the 1974 film very much comes to mind when watching Tumbleweeds, although the allusion doesn't necessarily favour first-time director Gavin O'Connor.

While Alice tries her hardest to avoid men, Mary Jo's compulsive behaviour towards them is the driving force of Tumbleweeds - responsible both for mother and daughter's nomadic lifestyle, and for the tensions between them. In exploring this, the script is often funny, and insightful. In particular, O'Connor and his co-screenwriter Angela Shelton (on whose memoir this film was based) avoid the usual overwrought rationalisations for Mary Jo's insecurities: hers is simply a banal life story, in which one mistake leads to another, until misadventure becomes a habit.

The depiction of the parent/child relationship is also well observed, less in the dialogue, perhaps, than in its palpable physicality: frequent meals, food fights, farting displays; Ava's first period; a trip to the beach wearing matching (and ill-fitting) bathing costumes. Rather than the saccharine show one might find in a more mainstream movie, Janet McTeer and young Kimberly J. Brown's tactile rapport offers something infinitely more believable. Indeed, it's the rich, febrile performance of the British actress, bringing just the right blend of charisma and chaos to her characterisation, that lifts this essentially modest film. Driving her Mustang as if dressed for Ascot, Mary Jo comes across as a raunchier version of Blanche Du Bois, still reckless before tragedy has taken its indelible hold.

The affinities with Scorsese's film are everywhere: in the scenario; the rather naive view of men - as either nice guys or irredeemable brutes - that one sometimes finds in female-centred films made by male directors; and the naturalistic performances. But O'Connor's handling of the mise en scène pales in comparison, exposing the ordinariness of his direction.

This is epitomised by his misguided use of the jarring 'naturalism' - the skittish, arbitrary camerawork - of US television police dramas. Even a quiet dinner scene between mother and child is shot as if the cameraman needs a detox. The result is as intrusive as the writing is subtle. O'Connor also appears in the film, as the trucker Jack; ironically, it is when he's on the road that the director, like his character, seems most at ease.

WARRIOR                                                                 B                     84

USA  (140 mi)  2011  ‘Scope


While there’s nothing particularly novel about this formulaic story, a ROCKY (1976) picture with Nick Nolte in the famous Burgess Meredith role as the aging fight trainer, with the role of Rocky split between two brothers, Tom Hardy as Tommy and Joel Edgarton as Brendan, split from one another as teenagers and forced to lead very separate and distinctly different lives.  Hardy plays a brooding ex-Marine, a loner with so many complications in his life he can barely utter a word, a guy carrying a grudge who turns into a horrifically brutal fighter, while his brother Brandon is a high school physics teacher, married with two children, but about to have his home foreclosed, forcing him into a state of desperation where he can pick up extra cash from the fight business.  Joel Edgarton is the screenwriter of the very stylish The Postman Always Rings Twice style Australian film THE SQUARE (2008), directed by his brother Nash, and one of the criminal brothers in one of he best pictures of last year, ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010).  Here he plays the older brother who got the better end of the deal, as the younger brother was forced to flee from an abusive father, taking his terminally ill mother with him, basically fending for himself at an early age, losing all contact with his family.  Neither one has any use for their father, who finally after all these years is trying to get sober, but barely even registers as having a pulse with these two guys, as they’ve left him behind ages ago.  Rather than playing football in Mark Wahlberg’s INVINCIBLE (2006), wrestling from Aronofsky’s THE WRESTLER (2008 ), or boxing in David O. Russell’s THE FIGHTER (2010), this movie features the latest fighting craze called the ultimate fighting championship, mixed martial arts, which allows boxing, wrestling, and various martial arts techniques where a fighter wins by points, knockouts or submission holds, where in this case, a round robin battle of 16 leads to 4 fights within 24 hours, the winner takes all, a $5 million cash prize.  


While the actual narrative is familiar, but rather than shown in an indie style picture, which is usually all character development, this is a tense, highly stylized, Hollywood action picture that takes us directly into the center of the ring where it becomes an adrenaline-laced fight picture, an old-fashioned popcorn movie that stars three men who are so damaged they are barely articulate, who haven’t spoken to one another in years, and when they do have the opportunity, they still have next to nothing to say, so it’s all about what happens inside the ring.  Tommy is a former undefeated high school State wrestling champion, but his quick exit from the state curtailed his promising career, while Brendan had a brief, fairly ordinary ultimate fighting career that also came to an abrupt end as his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) couldn’t stand to see her husband get pummeled.  But both are completely off the radar when it comes to ranking the best fighters in the world, so just getting into this tournament is something of a stretch.  However, the acting in this picture is superb, among the best performances of the year, where they each complement one another nicely, where Nolte is the odd man out, bruised, beaten, old and weary, who dares to hope against all fading hope that he can reconcile his differences with his two sons who refuse to acknowledge his existence, who spends his time listening to a tape in his ear of a reading of Melville’s Moby Dick.  Tommy went off to Iraq and bulked up, but so little is known about him that his life is a mystery even to himself, as he keeps everything secretly locked up inside, very much in the mold of Stallone in FIRST BLOOD (1992), where fighting is his true release, seen kicking the living crap out of a championship contender as a walk on fighter in a dingy gym, which is how he earns his reputation.  He’s also recognized by a soldier in Iraq as a war hero, but the Army has no clue who he is.  Brendan is a popular teacher, but imagine the looks on the kids faces when he walks into classes with cuts and bruises all over his face, where he’s the talk of the school forcing the administration to step in, as this is not the kind of example they’re interested in setting for young well-educated teenagers.               


While there is a working class setting of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, there is little connection to actual working class problems, as few, if any, American households can attempt to save their homes via ultimate fighting prize winnings.  Most would stand a better chance beating the odds of winning an extreme makeover offered by the Oprah Winfrey show, where they may refurbish, redecorate, and pay a year’s mortgage to save your home from foreclosure.  Instead this is all about the promised lure of dollars, where instead of hunkering down and figuring out what most families would need to do, like sell one of their two high-priced automobiles, they rely upon a Hollywood dream, a clichéd option that really doesn’t exist, only in the movies.  This movie would barely be a consideration except that the production values are excellent, the acting is extremely compelling, the suspense is palpable, using a split screen and quick cut editing technique, all adding to the build up of tension, where the ass kicking action in the ring is riveting, reinforced by the musical soundtrack by Mark Isham, all of which adds up to a remarkably well made motion picture, one that will likely delight audiences as one of the feel good pictures of the year.  The question will be whether this film has any staying power, whether any of the emotional connections have any resiliency, and whether there’s enough fan interest in the action scenes.  The blue collar setting is interesting, but the degree of dysfunctional family relationship is dark and disturbing, where the option of organized crime never intruds, as these boys would likely have been recruited as teenagers by neighborhood gangs.  As bleak as the unfolding narrative can seem, real life often offers far darker alternatives.  There are weight divisions in every fighting match, including weigh-ins, but that seems to have been thrown by the wayside, where the fight tournament actually resembles Bruce Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), continually fending off bigger and stronger contenders, where the most patient and disciplined fighter often prevails, defying all odds, where a guy never given a chance still has a chance.  In times of financial ruin, where people are legitimately losing their jobs and their homes, not to mention their pensions and their futures, this film, like the director’s earlier 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey dream on ice, MIRACLE (2004), feels like a hope and a prayer.


Andy's Film Blog [Andy Kaiser]

An angry and bitter young man (Tom Hardy) returns to the home of his alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) so he can train him to fight in a mixed martial arts tournament and nothing more. His older brother (Joel Edgerton), whom he also harbors resentment towards, is a struggling school teacher facing foreclosure and also eyes the substantive cash prize of the MMA tourney. "Warrior" is a sports movie that is rife with cliches, that is handled in such an extraordinarily powerful manner that we gladly embrace them. It's a film that transcends its genre and should appeal to everyone because it finds strength in its human story. Tom Hardy, who's star is quickly on the rise, brings a quiet ferocity to the role and Joel Edgerton is quite good as well bringing believability to his family man/scrappy underdog fighter. Then there is Nick Nolte, an actor many write off for his off screen antics, who reminds us all what a powerful presence he is. His repentant and tough as nails drunk is surely to earn him a supporting actor nod. With "Warrior", director Gavin O'Connor has taken the kind of film that holds a high mass appeal and injected with a dynamism along with a touch of humanity resulting in a work that plays like gangbusters.

exclaim! [Bjorn Olson]

The realm of mixed martial arts is still an ephemeral one, where upstart fighters can quickly rise through the ranks if they prove their mettle with a combination of brute strength, mental agility, endurance and sheer insanity.

A sport that generates millions of dollars in revenue, yet is still fighting for mainstream acceptance, is full of inherent contradictions, and in Warrior, it acts as a metaphor for the fractured family life of two brothers, both teetering on the edge between respectability and oblivion.

Beginning with the arrival of broken down, AWOL Marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) at his father's (Nick Nolte) Philadelphia childhood home, Warrior sets up a dichotomy of brothers escaping the past. On the other side is Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a regular-guy schoolteacher caught in the capital crunch and facing the loss of his home. Both are scrappy Irish fighters with chequered pasts, and both are essentially forced into returning to their fighting ways to resolve their desperate situations, entering a winner-take-all MMA tournament for a five million dollar purse.

Okay, before the eye-rolling starts, know that Warrior is a straightforward, classically told family story with an ending that can be spotted from the first reel, so the key with a movie like this is how it reaches its destination. Hardy and Edgerton are both solid, bringing subtlety where it's sorely needed to the yin-yang of two brothers torn apart. Nick Nolte is excellent as their formerly drunken dad, adding a sad-eyed nuance to the kind of role he was born to play, especially as he edges into to the twilight of his career.

From his sternness to the contrition of an ex-addict to his wild-eyed (and haired) leap off the wagon of sobriety, Nolte is a joy to watch and master of every scene he's in. As things reach a fever pitch and our battling brothers advance through the tournament, director Gavin O'Connor does a good job keeping things moving at an entertaining pace, making sure the comparatively wee Irish brothers beating down men twice their size feels at least somewhat realistic.

Warrior is a smart film, but it's also a fairy tale for dudes where, despite the bloody struggles, the pieces fall together neatly. It's nearly impossible to run a new spin on the sports film, and Warrior isn't trying to re-invent the wheel. Yet what it does with its pieces makes for bold, gritty entertainment.

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

With Miracle and now Warrior, Gavin O'Conner can lay claim to being the finest sports-drama director working today. That field is, admittedly, a shallow one, yet faint praise isn't intended, as O'Conner continues to exhibit a deft knack for melding interpersonal drama with athletic competition in ways that, despite his tales' clichés, earn their melodramatic manipulations through genuine empathy for characters' plights. Whereas his prior effort about the historic real-life 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had built-in rooting-interest, Warrior works from an original dramatic template—original, of course, except for its indebtedness to Rocky, with which it shares not only a Philadelphia setting for its rise-to-fisticuffs-glory trajectory, but a set of archetypes modeled after the Italian Stallion, Adrian, Mick, and Drago. Still, if those connections are sometimes blatant, they're also embraced as a means of acknowledging the enduring impact of its basic nobodies-make-good template, in which two long-estranged brothers, high school wrestling star and Iraq war vet Tommy (Thomas Hardy) and physics teacher and former UFC punching bag Brendan (Joel Edgerton), seek self-worth and salvation through confronting their traumatic past with recovering alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte), all while vying for a $5 million purse at an Atlantic City mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament.

If Brendan is a loyal family man in a Balboa mold, battering ram Tommy is On the Waterfront's Terry Malloy, a glowering, sarcastic everyman struggling to both subsist and survive his own inner demons. Tommy and Brendan's day-to-day lives and self-esteem are wracked by contemporary concerns regarding housing foreclosures and battlefield trauma, which for Tommy is complicated by his having heroically saved comrades by literally ripping a tank's door off its hinges, but the consistently well-modulated script doesn't overstate its modern-condition concerns so much as merely couch its uplifting saga in a relatable here-and-now. As with a recurring, understated thematic subplot involving Paddy and Moby Dick, or when Paddy loftily proclaims, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't," and Tommy deflates the sentiment with a "Yeah?," Warrior regularly finds a way to meld its more epic impulses in a convincing working-class reality. That's also true of the story's guiding moral and emotional conflicts and dilemmas, which—be it Brendan's refusal to lose his house because "we're not going backwards," or Tommy and Brendan's equally valid anger over Brendan's teenage decision to stay with his abusive dad while Tommy and their dying mother fled to the West Coast—recognize life as a thicket of complications, misunderstandings and mistakes that rarely can be assessed and resolved in cozy black-and-white terms.

The film's first half carefully considers its protagonists, with its generous spirit extending to that of Paddy, whose soul-crushing mixture of guilt is beautifully conveyed by Nolte in a performance of tremulous reserve and grace. Hardy and Edgerton are equally compelling as siblings at war with their father, each other, and themselves, providing enough polar-opposite energy to create tremendous friction during the finale, an inevitable showdown between the two that—in light of the preceding, even-handed character-centric material—is most powerful for its ability to elicit desire for dual victory. Shooting with a patina of rusty grays, blues, and blacks, O'Conner handles these segments with aplomb, and once the tale turns to the MMA cage, his action sequences deliver one visceral wallop after another. To its occasional detriment, the plot never upends expectations, ultimately hewing to a predictable happily-ever-after path. Yet on the heels of its compassionate portrait of wounded masculinity in search of stability and forgiveness, his bruising clashes—highlighted by an amazing close-up of Brendan as he attempts to fell an undefeated opponent with a submission hold, his life's fears and desires manifest in his fraught face and vein-bulging neck—prove so gripping that, even at 139 minutes, Warrior leaves you wanting even more.

Warrior Review: Two "Rocky" Movies for the Price of One | Pajiba ...    Dustin Rowles


Review: Warrior gives Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton compelling ...  Drew McWeeny from HitFix


The Daily Rotation [Jeremy Lebens]


Warrior (2011) : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical  Tyler Foster


Warrior movie review starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte  Rebecca Murray from


Warrior | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Allison Willmore


DVD Talk [Jason Bailey]  also seen here:  Fourth Row Center [Jason Bailey]


ReelViews [James Berardinelli]


Film Blather [Eugene Novikov]


We Got This Covered [Benjo Colautti]


The Wrap [Alonso Duralde]


Twitch [Scott Weinberg]  Anthony Benigno [Emanuel Levy]


Arrow in the Head [John Fallon] [John Soltes]


ReelTalk [Donald Levit]


Eye for Film : Warrior Movie Review (2011)  Owen Van Spall


Warrior: movie review - - Christian Science Monitor  Peter Rainer


FilmFracture: What's Your Time Worth? [Kathryn Schroeder]


The Critical Movie Critics [A. Pinkston]


Review: 'Warrior' is an Entertaining Cain and ... - Film School Rejects  Robert Levin [Cole Smithey]


Corndog Chats [Adam Kuhn]


The Film Stage [Jack Giroux]


Review: 'Warrior' |  Beth Accomando [Dustin Putman]


Mark Reviews Movies [Mark Dujsik]


ReelTalk [Diana Saenger]


Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]


HeyUGuys [Emma Thrower]


Killer Film [Jon Peters]


The King Bulletin [Danny King]


MovieBuzzers [Melissa Hanson]


Shalit's 'Stache [Matthew Schuchman] [Matthew Fong]


Boxoffice Magazine [Kate Erbland [Brian Orndorf]


Quiet Earth [Marina Antunes]


Empire [Dan Jolin]


I Heart The Talkies


Warrior: A Family That Ultimate Fights Together ... - Village Voice  Nick Pinkerton


Boom   Because Our Opinions Matter


B. Fatt & Lazy [B. Fatt & Lazy]


Critic's Notebook [Martin Tsai]


The Reel Deal [Mark Sells]


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Odar, Baran bo

THE SILENCE (Das letzte Schweigen)             B+                   91

Germany  (111 mi)  2010  ‘Scope                                  Official site [de]


Not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman's THE SILENCE (1963) or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Iranian film THE SILENCE (1998), where this film may not stand with that elite company, however the Swiss director has worked as a second unit assistant director for the Maren Ade film THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2003), an unusual German film told in a measured and meticulously distinct, realist manner with a truly provocative final sequence.  A film with no opening credits, here the opening shot surveying the gorgeous Bavarian landscape sets the scene, resembling the aerial shot in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) following a car as it makes its way down a tree-lined highway, where this homage is likely not accidental, especially considering the content of the movie.  Writing, directing, and producing his first feature-length film, it also explores the unpleasant underbelly of an otherwise orderly and mainstream German society where people on the surface at least have nothing to fear, where children are often left on their own, probably resembling the quaint life in most small towns where everybody knows everybody else.  Set in the pastoral heartland of Germany in 1986 with golden, waist-deep wheatfields extending to the horizon, we watch the tail end of what may be a snuff film, or at the very least, a pedophile’s sexual fantasy, where two men, Peer, Ulrich Thomsen, a Danish actor seen in Susanne Bier’s film In a Better World (2010), and Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring) then hop into a car on the lookout for young prey, eying an 11-year old girl Pia (Helene Doppler) riding her bicycle alone down an isolated country road, where the girl is viciously raped and murdered in the wheatfields by Peer as Timo passively watches in a state of shock and horror at the outcome, her body dumped into a lake afterwards, where the killers were never caught, as Timo mysteriously disappears afterwards in a mixture of anger and personal disgust. 


The film jumps ahead 23 years, introducing an entirely new set of characters, including another young girl, 13-year old Sinikka (Anna Lena Klenke) who storms out of her parent’s house in a furious rage after a perceived invasion of her privacy, never to be seen or heard from again, as she becomes the victim of a copycat killing at the exact same location, where the police are again without a suspect for the crime.  The community is in an uproar, where the police have no answers for a seethingly angry public, but we also see the stunned reactions of the parents, including Elena (Katrin Saß) the mother of the first girl, Pia, who lives only a few hundred yards away from the murder site and has to undergo the experience all over again, where people are dumfounded and shocked at the gruesome similarities.  While only the audience sees the original perpetrators, everyone remains clueless about both crimes, where the community is aghast at having to re-live through this same horrible ordeal again.  Adapted by the director from the second of three Jan Costin Wagner novels, Das Schweigen (2007), all of which take place in Finland featuring the same lead character, Detective Kimmo Joentaa, a rather frumpy and hapless looking detective who in the movie becomes David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), a damaged soul still mourning the death of his wife from cancer, which happens in the first novel, Ice Moon (2003).  Perhaps because of his own personal experience, Detective Jahn, along with the steadfast help of his devoted partner, Jule Böwe as the pregnant detective Jana Gläser, they are the only ones in law enforcement who see this as more than a case to dispose of to make the public get off their backs, as there are larger implications that are routinely being ignored.  What is truly exceptional here is rather than invest energy attempting to solve the crime, the director is more interested in examining a cross section of people affected by the crime, where their response becomes the dramatic focus of the picture.  


The director doesn’t forget Peer and Timo, much older now and barely recognizable, where Peer remains at the same apartment complex working as the maintenance worker, where the audience immediately senses the obvious, the presence of a pedophile literally surrounded by unsuspecting children playing in the yard area that he maintains.  Timo on the other hand has moved to another city and is married with two children, where his wife Julia (Claudia Michelson) believes he’s an architect away from home for a few days inspecting a site location, while in fact he’s gone to visit Peer after the second murder, suspecting from the similarities that he’s involved.  Timo remains conflicted about the visit, still feeling guilty about the original incident that Peer has long since forgotten, yet their meeting together is the Macbethian stain from which all tragedy occurs, where countless more characters are still having to deal with the ugly ramifications of their actions.  The film is reminiscent of Tony Hillerman detective stories, where the overwhelming prominence of the natural environment affects each and every one of the characters, where the beautiful and tranquil landscape shots here are a stark contrast to the mental anguish and torment felt by entire community, much like the overriding grief felt throughout David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990 – 91), where the small town police work is really more of an excuse to reconnect several of the characters, alternately shifting various points of view, keeping the audience off balance while brilliantly interweaving the piano and violin in the stylishly original music of Michael Kamm and Kris Steininger as Pas de Deux.  While Wagner’s book is more like INSOMNIA (1997), a Nordic noir murder mystery that takes place in the Scandinavian summer heat under the perpetual midnight sun, introducing a dreamy, almost unreal quality to it, this movie is more interested in exploring and exposing the depths of human anguish, reconnecting people’s lives to deep seeded feelings that were long thought dormant, becoming a sad and sorrowful elegy for the dead.  Like Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), the film is an accomplished expression of community despair, somewhat disguised as a detective whodunit story, but instead becomes a complex study of grief, remorse, obsession, and the persistence of long pent-up guilt. 


Jigsaw Lounge [Sheila Seacroft] Cluj film-festival report

Two murders, apparently identical, with 23 years between, form the centre of this slow-burning, intelligent thriller which circles round the perpetrators, the police, the victims and their families. Beginning with a bang with the almost dialogue-free rape and murder of teenager Pia, and witnessing the effect on Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring), the shocked accomplice, we move swiftly to the present, where another girl of similar age, Sinikka, is killed on the same spot on the same date 23 years later. The police who were involved and failed to solve the crime eagerly take up the trail – recently retired Krischan (Burghart Klaußner)and the disturbed David (Sebastian Blomberg) whose wife has just died, the former seen by his ex-colleagues as a bit of an old duffer, the latter as a neurotic liability (who surely would have been firmly sent home on indefinite sickness leave by any real police force). For the first victim’s mother it is an ordeal she must revisit, and for the parents of Sinikka the nightmare is just beginning .Timo has moved away from his previous life and become a successful and happy family man. The tension builds simultaneously on the police’s official and unofficial investigations and on the question whether the guilt and knowledge of the identity of the murderer will drive Timo out of his new life to confess. Meanwhile Ulrich Thomson as the enigmatic murderer Peer, now seemingly a kindly caretaker, sends shivers down the spine as he sits by the children’s swing park and helps out old ladies. No crime is, maybe, as straightforward as it looks, and what has been thought of as a serial killing turns out to be more complicated, and the idyllic cornfield in which the two murders take place becomes a kind of timeless pivot for the action. Great beginning and end are rather let down by a long central section of overlong meanderings in regret, guilt and grief, but overall it’s a good mix of suspense and serious meditation on the many aspects of a crime.

The Silence | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Mike D’Angelo

On July 8, 1986, two pedophiles in a small German town stalk a teenage girl riding her bike down a country road. One of them (Ulrich Thomsen) rapes the girl, then impulsively kills her when she lashes out at him; the other (Wotan Wilke Möhring), a more nebbishy type, watches in horror from a distance. They dispose of the body and get away clean. The case is never solved.

More than two decades later, another teenage girl disappears, on the same date and in the same spot, her bicycle found just a few feet from the previous victim’s grave marker. Someone’s trying to send a message, it seems. The Silence takes its time in revealing who’s responsible for this second crime, and why it’s happened again, yet writer-director Baran bo Odar (adapting a novel by Jan Costin Wagner) isn’t as interested in solving a mystery as he is in examining the community’s response to this re-opening of an old wound. From the detective who failed to solve the ’86 murder (Burghart Klaussner) to the victim’s still-grieving mother (Katrin Sass), people who thought they’d put the tragedy well behind them are drawn back into emotional states they’d long forgotten. That goes double for Möhring, now a respectable husband and father living in another city, who heads back to confront his ugly legacy and his old friend. 

From moment to moment, The Silence can feel a bit pokey, as it divides its attention among a host of characters and never builds up much urgency about the fate of the second victim, whose body hasn’t been found. The film’s provocative nature only becomes fully apparent with the final scene—not due to some unexpected twist (by that point, all has been revealed), but via a sudden, head-spinning shift in perspective. What had seemed like a lackluster ensemble piece turns out to be an exercise in empathy, inviting viewers to recognize the pain of an otherwise reprehensible character by enfolding him into a huge tapestry of mutual anguish. That tactic might genuinely piss some people off were it not accomplished so quietly and subtly, and while the movie’s plodding journey to this destination isn’t ideal, there’s a sense in which it almost needs to be that TV-drama-ish, in order to lower the viewer’s defenses. (There’s no rationalization for Thomsen and Möhring looking the same age in scenes set 23 years apart, however. Shaggy wigs don’t cut it.) Even for the irredeemable, The Silence audaciously suggests, loneliness is loneliness.

The Silence | Film Review | Tiny Mix Tapes  Alan Pyke

The ugliest parts of human behavior are often on display in cinema. Artists and audiences alike — though perhaps more the former than the latter, to look at box office returns — feel drawn by the worst in us. Safe in dark theaters, we contemplate horrors and root for the heroes caught up in them. And we hope for directors who can use striking visual language to build some meaningful commentary on the most rotten moral foundations. You have to be an absolute believer in the communicative and political power of cinema to watch a movie about murdered children and sift its frames for something more than macabre titillation.

That requirement is more critical than usual for Baran bo Odar’s The Silence. The Swiss writer-director’s film is beautifully executed, but punishing in its every detail. Twenty-three years after a girl was killed, another abandoned bicycle appears in the same spot in the same field, another pair of parents are left to agonize, and another set of cops set about the hunt. There is little physical violence in the film, but an inexhaustible supply of emotional carnage. “Depressing” ain’t the half of it.

The Silence opens with a still shot of a residential balcony, all tans and blues and right angles, with a massive, distorted, deep electronic sound putting the viewer instantly on edge. Cinematographer Nikolaus Summerer’s camera zooms slowly in on the sharp metal corners of the mail slot, before Odar cuts to the interior of the apartment. Two men are watching a projector showing a young, frightened girl. Suddenly the cuts become rapid, the shots come at hard angles to one another, and you sense that you should be grateful for the sudden distortion of time and space. Filled with dark energy, the two men depart (shown in a straight-down shot of their red car backing out of a garage into a cramped driveway, the shot full of the same harsh, square geometry).

Later, they separate, the passenger horrified at what he’s just watched and encouraged the driver to do. And 23 years later, young Sinikka Weghamm (Anna-Lena Klenke) meets the same fate, in the same field, after fighting with her parents and being stood up by friends and deciding to bike back home. If The Silence were a grindhouse flick, the implications of the fight with her parents would be unacceptably regressive: Sinikka tells her father to “fuck off,” he starts after her, and her mother stops him. But Odar’s movie isn’t about the kind of simplistic moral calculus that B horror flicks use to frame their gore as judgment. It’s about how appearances deceive, and how good intentions are insufficient for the righting of wrongs.

The visual language Odar and Summerer employ is unmistakable: characters and places are defined either with rigorously angular, boxy shapes in the frames around them, or by the messiness of their personal presentation. By and by, the filmmakers elaborate upon the suggestion in the opening sequence that the squared-away order in which central antagonist Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) lives is a mask. Elena (Katrin Sass), the mother of the first victim, has preserved her daughter’s bedroom exactly as it was when she disappeared. It is fastidious, and Elena’s relationship with this organic shrine to her dead girl’s prim, organized, angular goodness is complicated and painful. Sinikka’s home is shown first in interiors, with the same scheme of corners and blunt geometry, and it’s only after she’s disappeared that we see the house from outside: It sits, for all its rectangles and clean lines, beside a mini-mountain of torn dirt, and a yard full of haphazard construction equipment.

Another thing you might have to believe to enjoy The Silence: Hope and uplift in such stories is just a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. There is little of either to be had in the detectives’ pursuit of the killer, although some seems to come by way of Peer’s one-time accomplice Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring). His fierce internal wrestling after Peer’s message to his lost “friend” — delivered via news footage of Sinikka’s disappearance in that familiar field — shakes up the family and life he’s made for himself 23 years on. But Timo’s response is a poor excuse for redemption. Odar executes that internal struggle wonderfully, and Mohring does excellent, haunted work. So, too, does Sebastian Blomberg, as Inspector David Jahn, a widowed, sweat-soaked, unshaven ghost of a man who is alone among his colleagues in being more interested in getting the case right than in getting it off the books. Odar introduces these several sets of initially disparate characters — mothers and cops and killers — and braids them together gracefully. But he uses the resulting rope not to pull his audience up out of the darkness, but to strangle us in it.

“The Silence”: A serial killer is on the loose in this twisty ... -  Andrew O’Hehir


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Review: 'The Silence' An Effectively Moody Murder Mystery | The ...  Gabe Toro from The indieWIRE Playlist


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'The Silence' review: Getting into the minds of those ... - Pioneer Press  Chris Hewitt


The Silence :: :: Reviews  Jim Emerson


The Silence - Movies - The New York Times  A.O. Scott

Odoul, Damien

DEEP BREATH (Le Souffle)                    A-                    93                                                                                     

France (77 mi)  2002


A terrific mix of reality and fantasy blended together in one day in the life of a teenager on the verge of manhood, shot in stunning b & w, some scenes are truly amazing, terrific performance by the boy, Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc, and a very tight, well written script, coming in at 77 mi, winner of Venice Film Fest FIPRESCI award


BFI | Sight & Sound | Film of the Month: Le Souffle (2001)  Ryan Gilbey from Sight and Sound, May 2003

Le Souffle is a portrait of an angry young man almost too painful to watch

The coming-of-age movie, with its insistence that nothing will ever be the same again after that summer, can be maddeningly simplistic. It typically depends for its impact on the transformative effect of a single plot point, and for its illumination on hindsight softened by nostalgia. Even if first-time director Damien Odoul had not mounted in Le Souffle a string of poetic visual coups that might have made Cocteau swoon, it would still be possible to marvel at how nimbly he sidesteps the traps of the genre to which his film has some tentative allegiance.

With its combination of savage rustic imagery and a bare-bones narrative sketching one boy's stumble towards manhood, Le Souffle could be described as a sheep in wolf's clothing. Shots of animals being culled or dissected prime us, slightly misleadingly, for an essay of the utmost seriousness, such sights being a staple part of the arthouse diet Godard's Week-End, Haneke's Benny's Video, Delphine Gleize's upcoming Carnages. In the absence of plot, here it's often the bodies that tell the story: a boy's belly-button spirals in on itself in close-up like a mysterious seashell, a girl's never-ending legs are as pure and white as a mile of uncrossed beach. The performances, too, have an almost embarrassing naturalism. As the half-surly, half-frolicsome adolescent David, Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc is so fine he makes you want to avert your eyes; his convulsive dances and tantrums, his boastful incantations ("I represent all the bad boys!"; "I am a wolf!") are too near the knuckle for anyone who has been, known or lived on the same planet as an angry young man.

But the rites of passage in David's story are not forthcoming. Even now, having watched the film twice, I'm not certain he makes it across the border into the adult world. Is there a name for a coming-of-age film which manifestly fails to make good on the genre's one stipulation?

Stranded on his uncles' farm in the remote Limousin region of France, David might well be undergoing a life-altering experience during the balmy day charted by the film. But we are no wiser by the end of it than he appears to be; like David himself, Le Souffle is breathtakingly pretty but largely inscrutable. Repeatedly a chance presents itself for catharsis or epiphany notably in David's interaction with Stef, the wisest and least brutish of the men gathered on the farm for a barbecue that grows closer, with each revolution of the spit, to a sacrificial ceremony. Repeatedly such opportunities go unexploited.

Odoul may even be baiting film-makers who have stuck to the straight and narrow in their journey through the treacherous forest of adolescence. It can be no coincidence that the closest thing the film has to conventional action comes when David looms over a boy's body beside a railway line, just as his American peers did in Stand by Me. The obvious difference is that whereas River Phoenix and chums were related to that body only as spectators, and had their progression into adulthood flagged by setting eyes on it, David is complicit in his discovery the boy is his friend Paul, whom he had shot in the back seconds earlier. Even more radical is the film's denial, or at least suppression, of motive or consequences. David sheds a few tears for his injured friend, but more out of frustration at not being able to hoist Paul on to his disobedient horse.

Even with so much beauty to please the eye, a person will eventually question the purpose of a film in which violence engenders in its perpetrator no apparent emotion, not even pleasure. Is this another River's Edge, another Fun, in which the blank doling out of brutality becomes a symptom of youthful alienation? Not likely. David rips the tailfeathers from a cockerel and lobs stones at a forlorn donkey who might reasonably be wondering if Au hasard Balthazar wasn't punishment enough for his species. The root of the violence, though, is to be found not in David's languid aggression but in the farm's stone banquet room, where the men eat, sweat, lug each other around like dolls and rake over their lives without insight.

Who can predict whether David will be the exception? The film isn't saying. It's pregnant with images of birth and rebirth that point to a maturation process not discernible in his face. In fantasy excerpts, he is naked and dirty, as though he has just tumbled out of the womb. Early on he has his scalp shorn while a sheep's severed head looks on, flies dancing about its grisly grin. This is the only moment in which he looks truly contented, oblivious as he is to the ritualistic connotations of his uncomplicated crop. Of course, we have just witnessed the killing of that sheep, its black blood dribbling noisily into a bucket, as well as the brisk unwrapping of a dead pig whose intestines almost uncoil into our laps. We are, then, better placed to comprehend that David is being primed for sacrifice.

While he is not actually slaughtered by the corpulent farmers, there remains a jabbing, malevolent quality to the day's celebrations that gives the film its sinister kick. You might suspect that the men are nudging their young charge towards intoxication in order to have their wicked way with him, but the scenario is all the more disturbing for its absence of sexual danger. True, there is a scene in which David is jolted out of his stupor with a cup of salty coffee, before being sprayed with a hose. Odoul throws in cut-aways to his tormentors a hairy, distended belly ballooning over a man's trousers; a gummy mouth twisted in laughter; a mutt's leathery tongue unspooling obscenely. It's a horrifying scene: a rape scene, in fact, in all but the letter of the script. But sex very quickly leaks out of the movie. It's almost as though Odoul needed that shocking episode to clear sensationalist thoughts from our minds.

What he saddles us with is something more amorphous and pervasive. If these ghouls were just after David's cherry, their threat to him could be routinely quantified. What they actually want is to make him a man. He is to be inducted into their cannibalistic circle of martyred sons who are regurgitated into irresponsible fathers. One man, Jean-Claude, was shot in the head by his dad. "Ah, memories," he sighs. Pierrot, who is plotting to leave his wife and children, warns David: "Get this into your skull fathers always abandon their sons." David, who is fatherless since his parents' divorce, pastes fond photographs of female relatives by his bed, alternated with snaps of dead animals. But there are no women present in his life here, unless you count the fantasy sequence in which he visits the fairytale house of his supposed girlfriend long enough to enjoy a brief clinch and to cradle his head mournfully in his hands at the sound of her mother's angelic singing, before fleeing through the window of her Rapunzel tower. In a landscape drained of all female influence, it is hardly surprising that the oak tree cleaved into an unambiguously vaginal V comes to seem like the only positive influence in this boy's life.

VENICE 2001 REVIEW: 400 Breaths; Odoul’s Spellbinding Debut “Deep Breath”  Patrick Z. McGavin from indieWIRE, also seen here:  NYFF 2001 REVIEW: 400 Breaths; Odoul’s Spellbinding Debut “Deep Breath”


Ogigami, Naoko


MEGANE (Glasses)

Japan  (106 mi)  2007


Time Out New York (David Fear) review [2/6]


A foreign film for those who think cute is the highest compliment, this painfully po-faced story about an oddball hotel poses a question: If you tune a fish-out-of-water premise down to the lowest key possible, are you still left with nothing but formulaic tripe? It’s a given that the uptight visitor (Kobayashi) who arrives at the movie’s spare beach resort will find the let-it-flow attitude of the proprietor (Mitsuishi) to be irksome, and the strange, smiling geriatric (Motai) who serves shaved ice to be maddeningly inscrutable. We also know what will inevitably happen next: The longer this city dweller is around her deadpan-kooky fellow travelers, the more those nightly bouts of “twilighting”—a fancy way of saying you’re staring off into space—will seem deeply profound.


The real lesson: Just because a predictable narrative comes laden with pretty pictures and Zen quirk, that doesn’t make its platitudinous ideology any less grating. Director Naoko Ogigami may have a keen eye for placing characters in clean, uncluttered space, but her ear for dialogue (“I just spend my time waiting…for time to pass, I guess.”) suggests she’s digested a steady diet of New Age blather. Megane isn’t interested in spiritual enlightenment; it’s the cinematic equivalent of a rock-garden tchotchke sold as exotica to tourists.


Village Voice (Scott Foundas) review  (Excerpt)

I first saw Tôkyô Sonata at last year's Sydney Film Festival. On the flight back, after learning that my father had died in Florida, I saw writer-director Naoko Ogigami's delightful Megane (Glasses), another Japanese film that begins with the blowing of a gentle spring breeze. The breeze heralds the arrival of Sakura-san (Masako Motai), a grandmotherly Mary Poppins in simple dress and pulled-back hair who seems to materialize out of the ether with the start of the season at Hamada, a secluded beach resort. This particular year, her appearance is followed closely by that of Taeko (Satomi Kobayashi), a buttoned-up professor on holiday who has chosen Hamada (where she seems to be the only other guest) for its lack of cell phone reception. She has "the talent to be here," says the resort's kindly manager (Ken Mitsuishi) upon realizing that Taeko is the first guest in three years to find her way without getting lost. Less pleased with the arrangements is Taeko herself, who discovers that the only sightseeing in the area involves sitting on the beach and staring fixedly off into the distance—a form of r&r dubbed "twilighting" by the locals. Nor does she take too kindly to Sakura-san's daily in-person wake-up calls and incessant offers of homemade shaved ice. At one point, she makes an ill-fated break for it, packing her overstuffed suitcase and heading for a nearby resort—the Marine Palace—that turns out to be something of a Marxist Café Med, with morning collective farming followed by afternoon study sessions.

An exceptionally subtle comedy of manners and observation, Megane screened last year at Sundance and New Directors/New Films, but inexplicably remains without a U.S. distributor. (MOMA has booked it for a week-long run as part of the museum's ongoing ContemporAsian film series.) When I saw Ogigiami's film in-flight, I felt almost giddy with joy; revisiting it nine months later, I realized the credit is entirely the movie's and not the unusual circumstances under which I viewed it. The people in Megane do not ask much of one another, content to bask in the pleasure of their own company while listening to the lapping of the waves and watching the sun recede into the horizon. Never do we even learn just who Sakura-san is or where she comes from—she may be a yoga teacher from Tibet or an opera teacher from Prague, or both, or neither. "I wonder," says one character, allowing her wonder to linger, taking pleasure in not knowing. Eventually, spring breezes give way to summer rains, Sakura-san vanishes as quickly as she appeared, and Taeko must contemplate a return to the world of cell phone signals. So, this, too, shall pass, and yet Megane leaves us suffused not with loss but possibility and the feeling of an imminent return—to Hamada or someplace like it.

The House Next Door [Steven Boone]


The L Magazine [Henry Stewart]


Slant Magazine review  Nick Schager


The Hollywood Reporter review  Maggie Lee


Variety (John Anderson) review


The Japan Times [Mark Schilling]


Oguri, Kôhei


THE BURIED FOREST                             C+                   76

Japan (93 mi)  2005


A film that will put many viewers to sleep, as it has a dreamy, somnambulistic quality that feels as if the storyline is interweaving various bedtime stories.  Three high school girls in a rural mountain village decide to tell each other stories, where they each elaborate on what they’ve heard so far, creating a kind of chain letter effect.  While in theory, this may sound interesting, onscreen it never had a cohesive theme or developed any kind of structure to hold our interest, weaving in and out of reality like there is no reality, creating dream-like landscapes, much of the film photographed in extremely dim light, nearly always in the dark, so the few times daytime is seen, it feels ultra-expressively bright and colorful.  I did enjoy the whale theme, describing the effects of a whale washed ashore, not responding to any of the human efforts to help or revive it, which is followed by a giant truck driving by with a bright blue picture on the side of a whale riding a wave, likely an advertisement for a refreshing drink, but it continues to be seen in gorgeously odd situations.  Much of the film is lush and has moments of rare beauty, has an excessively slow pace, occasionally accentuated by the dense, hauntingly mysterious and somber tones of Arvo Pärt’s “Silouan’s Song,” but the overall tone of the film is without energy or vibrancy, as if none of this really matters to anyone, as if the characters in the film are a bunch of bored people that got together to try to amuse themselves at our expense, and nothing really holds our interest except, perhaps, the “look” of the film.   


Okazaki, Steven


About Steven Okazaki  biography from film website

Steven Okazaki's subjects range from heroin addicts to dairy princesses to Hiroshima survivors. He is the recipient of three Academy Award® nominations, an Oscar®, a Peabody and numerous other awards. His films, produced for HBO, PBS and NHK, are explorations of the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

Steven started in children's programming in 1976, producing dramatic shorts and documentaries for Churchill Films in Los Angeles. In 1982, he produced his first documentary, Survivors, for WGBH Boston. In 1985, he received an Academy Award® nomination for Unfinished Business, the story of three Japanese Americans who challenged the incarceration of their people. Studs Terkel called it "a powerful warning that hysteria, bigotry and moral cowardice demean us all."

With a fellowship from the American Film Institute, he moved in a different direction with Living on Tokyo Time, a comedy about a Japanese dishwasher and her deadbeat green card husband. It premiered at Sundance and was released theatrically by Skouras Pictures in 1987.

In 1991, he won an Oscar® for Days of Waiting, the story of artist Estelle Ishigo, one of the few Caucasians to be interned with the Japanese Americans during World War II. Other PBS documentaries include: Hunting Tigers (1989) a comic look at Tokyo pop culture featuring Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe; Troubled Paradise (1992), about native Hawaiian activism; American Sons (1994) about how the lives of Asian American men are shaped by racism; and The Fair (2001), a quirky celebration of the Minnesota State Fair.

From 1994 to 1996, he worked with NHK Hi-Vision, producing some of the earliest HD-TV programming. Two films, Alone Together: Young Adults Living with HIV and Life Was Good: The Claudia Peterson Story, about a family living next to the Nevada Test Site, won UNESCO Awards.

In the last ten years, much of his work has been with HBO Documentary Films. In 2000, HBO premiered the powerful Black Tar Heroin, a cinema-verite chronicle of the lives of five young heroin addicts. It was nominated for an Emmy and was one of HBO's highest rated documentaries that year. In 2005, he produced Rehab, a disturbing look at drug treatment, which won the prestigious Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award, honoring journalists who have "demonstrated the highest standards of reporting on drug issues." In 2006, he received his third Oscar® nomination for The Mushroom Club, a personal reflection on the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, which aired on HBO/Cinemax. His most recent film, White Light/Black Rain -- a comprehensive and vivid account of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and will air on HBO in August of 2007.

Segments from his films have been featured on "The CBS Evening News," "The NBC Nightly News," ABC News "Nightline," CNN and "Oprah." Steven was born in 1952 and grew up in Venice, California. After graduating from San Francisco State University's film school in 1976, he played in numerous mediocre punk bands and was featured in the Gap's famous bus stop poster campaign, before getting serious about making films. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, writer Peggy Orenstein, and their daughter.

Steven Okazaki | IFFR  brief bio


MetroActive Movies | Director Steven Okazaki  Director Steven Okazaki documents young SF junkies, by Michelle Goldberg, April 12, 1999


A-bomb legacy fading: filmmaker | The Japan Times   A-bomb Legacy Fading: Steven Okazaki films hibakusha stories for future generations, by Mandy Willingham, April 15, 2006


Berkeley filmmaker pays tribute to Toshiro Mifune - San Francisco ...  G. Allen Johnson from The San Francisco Chronicle, December 1, 2016


PARK CITY '07 INTERVIEW | Steven Okazaki: “It is an extraordinary ...  interview from indieWIRE, January 27, 2007


WHITE LIGHT BLACK RAIN—Interview With Steven Okazaki  Michael Guillen interview from Screen Anarchy, August 2, 2007


Conversations: Steven Okazaki -  Andrew O’Hehir interview, August 6, 2007


Asian Icon: Steven Okazaki explores the career of Japan's magnetic ...  Asian Icon: Steven Okazaki explores the career of Japan's magnetic Toshiro Mifune, interview by Film Journal, November 23, 2016


Conversation With Steve Okazaki Director of “Mifune: The Last ...  Masha Leon interview from Forward, November 29, 2016


Steven Okazaki - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



USA  (28 mi)  1990


Academy award winning short about a white wife of a Japanese-American who refused to be separated from her husband, becoming one of the few whites sent to an internment camp during WWII, based on the story of Estelle Ishigo and her novel Lone Heart Mountain.



USA  (86 mi)  2007        Welcome to Farallon Films


A powerfully disturbingly documentary shown initially on HBO TV that provides raw and graphic evidence of the effects left on the only survivors of a nuclear attack.  Like Holocaust survivors, many have refused to discuss this issue their entire lives as they have been shamefully ostracized within their own society due to their overt scars and physical disfigurements, a reminder of a distant past the Japanese society has been in a rush to forget.  The film opens by asking typical Japanese teenage kids in Hiroshima today if they can remember what event occurred on August 6, 1945.  Embarrassed, they smile with a look of innocence, but also forgetfulness.  We then begin to hear the stories of 14 who did survive, including an 11-year old girl who was 3 blocks away from ground zero, where everything in the vicinity was vaporized, yet somehow, miraculously shielded, she survived, yet her family and her entire school class of over 600 was lost.  Another remembers submerging herself underwater where the river was filled with floating corpses, but land was ablaze with fire.  Interesting that the American perspective of an atomic bomb is the long-range mushroom shaped cloud that develops, while the more intimate, close range experience of the Japanese recalls a fire storm where the heat rises to 9000 degrees Fahrenheit and winds rage over 1000 miles per hour.  If people didn’t die instantly, most died shortly thereafter as they become completely dehydrated, everyone begging for water, something that would likely kill them if they drank too much, an ugly truth one doctor realized very quickly.  The survivors were burned beyond belief leaving many with empty eye sockets or skin literally falling off the bone, where some have had over 30 operations to attempt to repair the damage, where their backs, legs, faces and ears have partly disintegrated.  One man described his bones as being so brittle that a heavy sneeze could kill him.   


Perhaps the most remarkable footage was shot by Americans who arrived on the scene shortly after the Japanese surrender, bringing in medical teams who were ill equipped to understand at that time the far-ranging effects of radiation poisoning.  So when patients who were supposed to get better didn’t, they had no treatment plan whatsoever to offer, so the survivors were photographed, like some sort of hideous guinea pigs put on display for the world to see.  Unbelievably, one of those photographed as a grotesque child was now speaking to the cameras in this film as an adult.  That transition is mind boggling.  The population of Hiroshima in 1945 was 300,000, where 140,000 were killed by the bomb, nearly all civilians.  Three days later 70,000 more were killed in Nagasaki.  Add to these figures another 160,000 who died from delayed effects of radiation exposure.  The photographs of the eviscerated landscape is haunting and chillingly empty, as nearly everything for as far as the eyes can see has flattened and disappeared, reduced to a rubble of gray ash.  In other more horrific photos, partial remains of dead bodies can be seen still strewn along the ground.  Many of the survivors were ashamed to have survived, or suffered such extreme prejudicial ostracism that they were treated as untouchables, or were in such unrelenting pain that they didn’t want to live.  Two sisters aged 9 and 10 from a Catholic orphanage miraculously survived, but one sister later committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train.  The remaining sister felt a similar urge, but concluded “There are two kinds of courage, the courage to die and the courage to live,” deciding her sister’s strength was having the courage to die while her own strength was discovering the courage to live.   As many of these survivors were speaking publicly for the first time, perhaps now in their 70’s, there’s an eerie sense of calm in the telling of their stories, as if it has replayed in their heads so many times that by now they know it by heart as they calmly but assuredly recall the painstaking details one more time.


The film makes unusual use of drawings and paintings by the survivors, which add a childlike innocence to the gruesome depictions, many of which may be seen here:  The American pilots who flew the mission to drop the bombs were also interviewed, maintaining a detached distance throughout, claiming they were just carrying out their mission successfully.  Most Americans were thankful the war was over, but for the Japanese, it was something else altogether, as nothing in the history of the world has compared to the aftermath of an atomic blast.  In a surreal event that actually happened, there’s an extended sequence of Edward R. Murrow on the TV show This Is Your Life, where Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Japanese activist is on the show attempting to raise money to assist atomic blast survivors, where the pilot of one of the planes that dropped the bomb suddenly appears from behind the curtain to shake his hand and make the first donation, while other survivors are so disfigured they remain silhouetted safely behind a curtainonly in America.  One wonders why Americans brought a special plane just to film the pilots dropping the bombs, as if they were somehow proud to show off their latest military weaponry.  Certainly this was the mindset at the time.  In the aftermath, Japan was slow to recognize the need to help survivors despite the government’s own implications.  But this film doesn’t get into the politics, or what’s right or wrong, but simply puts a human face on one of the world’s most tragic events where we see one woman has had 6 miscarriages, and for many families, the effects of radiation poisoning in future generations is uncertain, evoking a panic and hysteria when the possibility of marriage and children was considered.  A commission established in 1947 studied 100,000 survivors, detecting an exceptionally high level of leukemia, birth defects, miscarriage, and early menopause.  This film pays tribute to the living and the dead, offering a spirit of conciliation and reflection, where it has taken 60 years for many of the survivors to even come forward.  Certainly the Japanese language proficient American director is to be lauded for ultimately gaining their trust and for giving us an unembellished view of the consequences of war that is rarely ever seen.   


Facets : Cinémathèque: 2008 Human Rights Watch Film Fest


As global tensions rise, the unthinkable now seems possible. The threat that nuclear "weapons of mass destruction" will be used is more real and more frightening than at any time since the height of the Cold War, perhaps since 1945. White Light/Black Rain, an extraordinary new film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki, puts a human face on what we're really talking about. Even after 60 years, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to inspire argument, denial, and myth. Surprisingly, most people know very little about what happened on August 6 and 9, 1945 -- two days that changed the world. Featuring unforgettable interviews with fourteen atomic bomb survivors, many of whom have never spoken publicly before, and four Americans intimately involved in the bombings, the film reveals both unimaginable suffering and extraordinary human resilience. These indelible accounts are illustrated with survivor paintings and drawings, and historical footage and photographs, including newly uncovered material. White Light/Black Rain stands as a powerful warning to today's world -- which harbors nuclear weapons with the firepower of 400,000 Hiroshimas -- that we cannot afford to forget what happened on those two days in 1945. Directed by Steven Okazaki, U.S.A, 2007, BetaSP, 86 mins. In English, Japanese and Korean with English subtitles. [Dennis Harvey]


Vet documentarian Steven Okazaki's "White Light/Black Rain" provides a concise, often powerfully unpleasant account of the atomic bomb drops on Japan that ended WWII. Extensive survivor interviews and some hard-to-watch archival footage make this an important document. Brief specialized theatrical play is possible before the pic makes its HBO debut on the Hiroshima anniversary date, Aug. 6. While the film will primarily be an educational broadcast and classroom perennial, it should also be required viewing for advocates of the "Just nuke 'em" school of conflict resolution.

After briefly sketching the historical context and development of the bomb, Okazaki speaks with U.S. military and scientific personnel who were a part of the top-secret 1945 mission.

Interviewed Japanese, who ranged in age from 3-20 at the time, tell very different stories of the blast, subsequent hurricane-force wind and enveloping fire. Many were left disfigured, lost entire families and/or developed lifelong illnesses from radiation poisoning. This section is illustrated via art made by survivors, much of it simple and childlike yet extremely disturbing, a la Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

But that's nothing compared with what follows: First-person recollections of the final segment, "Aftermath," are accompanied by horrific color archival footage of the dead, dying and hospitalized. Many children were among the latter, in such pain that some purportedly begged to be put out of their misery. Even those who survived often lived out their lives as a new form of leper, pitied but generally shunned by mainstream society.

Film's sobering impact lets the images and witnesses' words speak for themselves. Editing is airtight, other aspects solid.

An end title notes that world powers hold the nuclear capability to re-create Hiroshima 400,000 times over.

Beyond the Multiplex -  Andrew O’Hehir (excerpt), including an August 6, 2007  interview with Okazaki here:  Conversations: Steven Okazaki - 

Possibly even tougher to watch (though it's a close race) is Steven Okazaki's "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," which will be shown on HBO in August and may also get a theatrical release. Of course we know about the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945 -- perhaps the defining event of the 20th century -- but this humbling, shocking film reminds us that we don't really know enough.

Okazaki interviews 14 survivors of the two bombings -- which killed about 210,000 people directly and led to the deaths of some 150,000 more from radiation-related illness -- along with four Americans involved in building and delivering the bombs. He also includes rarely seen footage of the two cities in the immediate aftermath of the devastation, shot first by Japanese news cameras and later by American occupation forces. No warning can really prepare you for these images of ashen corpses, maimed survivors and apocalyptic destruction, but in an age of renewed nuclear tension, there can be no question as to their relevance.

Okazaki, a Japanese-American whose father fought in the U.S. Army during World War II, ducks the question of whether the A-bomb attacks were moral or justifiable. As he put it in remarks after the screening I attended, that debate is now pointless, and often becomes a way of avoiding what actually happened, what it looked like and what those who lived through it can still tell us. (It's a disappearing generation; even the youngest of those who can remember the bombings clearly are now close to 70.)

As Okazaki demonstrates in the film's first scene, both of the nations involved in the catastrophe are in danger of forgetting it. While the A-bomb defined postwar Japan's identity in a certain sense, it also became a shameful subject surrounded by silence. (Survivors and their descendants face discrimination to this day.) When he stops eight random strangers on the street in Tokyo and asks them what historical event occurred on Aug. 6, 1945, none of them know.

Film Monthly (Ed Moore)

For all the talk in recent years about “weapons of mass destruction”—most particularly nuclear armaments—only two such devices have ever been employed in actual warfare: The atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, which killed 140,000 people, and the one dropped on Nagasaki three days later, which killed 70,000. Another 160,000 survivors of both blasts died later of radiation-related illnesses.

Oscar-winning documentarian Steven Okazaki goes well beyond the hard facts and cold figures in White Light/Black Rain, a comprehensive look at the two nuclear explosions that ended World War II (the Japanese surrendered a few days after the bombing of Nagasaki) and the aftermath that continues to this day.

Okazaki structures White Light/Black Rain for maximum impact, beginning with newsreel footage of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other events leading up to July 16, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was tested. He then shows street scenes of modern-day Hiroshima, which now looks more or less like any other Japanese city, then interviews young people on the street, all of whom are clueless about what happen on August 6, 1945.

From there, much of the story is told through interviews with survivors of the explosions, like Kiyoko Imori, who was three blocks from Ground Zero in Hiroshima and somehow wasn’t incinerated, even though her family and classmates were killed (she tearfully states her belief that she was spared so she could “tell people what happened, so they’ll understand”); Keiji Nakazawa, whose experiences were turned first into a series of graphic novels (Barefoot Gen), which was later as a pair of animated movies; and a doctor who viewed the explosion over Nagasaki and notes that the mushroom cloud was actually “a pillar of fire.”

Some survivors have physical scars; one woman has facial burns and gnarled hands, while a man had flesh fused to bone on his chest (“You can see my heart beating between the ribs”). All of the survivors have emotional scars, having watched their families, city and way of life taken from them in a literal flash. “My siblings never got to try chocolate, and the other wonderful things of life,” one survivor laments.

There are also interviews with Americans who helped build and deliver the bombs. They express surprise at how powerful the bombs, dubbed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” really were—one points out that anyone suggesting dropping a nuclear bomb on Iraq has no clue what they’re talking about—but also put their actions in the context of combat: The bomb “did what war does—it destroys people.”

There is remarkably little anger expressed toward America over the bombings, though one woman remembers asking the occupying soldiers why they’d killed her family. (The soldiers, who didn’t understand Japanese, just smiled back.) Much of their bitterness is directed at their own government, which for years neglected to give survivors subsidies, and at their own people, who continue to ostracize them. “The death and destruction was horrible,” one man explains, “but sometimes it’s harder to survive.”

Okazaki uses drawings and painting by A-bomb survivors to illustrate many of the stories, but eventually he shows still photos of Nagasaki the day after it was bombed, with charred bodies lying on what once were bustling streets, and U.S. Army footage of hospital patients (including one of the present-day interviewees) with terrible burns and infections.

These images are horrific, but Okazaki isn’t using them for shock value. Their inclusion is necessary—essential, even—to White Light/Black Rain. There’s no way to discuss this tragedy—or to argue against letting such a tragedy happen again—without showing the results of the tragedy itself, and his steady build toward these horrors only deepens the images’ already considerable impact. That anyone survived such a conflagration is amazing. That anyone would even consider unleashing such a conflagration again is almost unthinkable.

But in a world where the youth don’t know what happened in August of 1945 and where enough nuclear weapons exist to reenact Hiroshima and Nagasaki hundreds of thousands of times over, the almost unthinkable is almost possible.

World Socialist Web Site  C.W. Rogers

Time Is Standing Still: White Light/Black Rain | PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs


'Nanking' & 'White Light/Black Rain': World War II Horrors - Alt Film Guide  Andre Soares


Sundance review on indiewire  Steve Ramos


White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki  Culture Unplugged


A Fool for Hiroshima | HuffPost  Dennis Perrin, August 13, 2007


Film Threat  Phil Hall   Jeff Giles


DVD Verdict [Joel Pearce]


White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and ... - DVD Talk  Randy Miller III [MaryAnn Johanson]


Movie Picture Film (Scott Hoffman)


An interview with Steven Okazaki, director of White ... -  by Antonio Pasolini, July 31, 2007


WHITE LIGHT BLACK RAIN—Interview With Steven Okazaki  Michael Guillen interview from Screen Anarchy, August 2, 2007


Women In World Cinema: An Interview with Steven Okazaki, Director  by Cathleen Rountree August 5, 2007  


Conversations: Steven Okazaki -  Andrew O’Hehir interview, August 6, 2007


White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ...  Variety


New York Times  Chilling Details, 62 Years Later, of the Ground Zero in Japan, by Neil Genzlinger, August 6, 2007

White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ...  Wikipedia


FILM HIROSHIMA-NAGA SAKI WHITE LIGHT BLACK RAIN   YouTube interview with Okazaki July 5, 2007  (10:06)


YouTube - Interview with director Steven Okazaki  by Asia Pacific Arts, Aug 1, 2007 (7:33), also here:  Interview with Steven Okazaki - Brightcove


Okuda, Eiji


SHOUJYO:  AN ADOLESCENT              B                     87

aka:  Shôjo

Japan  (122 mi)  2001


First of all, this kind of film could never be made in the USA, there would simply be too much of a moral outrage.  Secondly, the subject of the film, adapted by Katsuhiko Manabe and Izuru Narushima from a short story written by Mikihiko Renjo, features a forty year old man having sex with a 15-year old, which is statutory rape, and morally objectionable any way you look at it.  However, one can suspend reality and have an open mind at the artistic elements offered, and consider them within a Japanese culturistic vein.


Using an overly exaggerated theatrical acting style, very much like Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO, where everyone acts overly foolish, we meet Eiji Okuda, a character actor in at least 25 previous films, but here directing his first feature film, who plays an oafish cop who sleeps on the job, horses around with his fellow officers, drinks and steals women’s pets, then returns them in exchange for sexual favors.  One day as he is drinking alone off in a corner booth, he is approached by a beautiful young girl, Mayu Ozawa, who propositions him and follows him to a hotel room, but vanishes mysteriously afterwards.  Thinking she’s a high school girl, he harasses all the girls he can find searching for her, but to no avail, as the girl has disappeared.  Yet we see her erotically aroused by a photo of a male one-winged bird which is tattooed on the policeman’s back, and to literary references to Japanese mythology which suggests on earth, the bird can’t fly, yet in heaven, it joins its mate and flies freely.  Out of the blue, as he is attending a gangster’s funeral, he sees the girl dressing up the body, and the two become instant lovers.  Her name is Yoko, she’s 15 and not even old enough to attend high school yet, but she knows by the tattoo on his back that they are destined lovers, and they are then seen as inseparable, riding together on a single bicycle while, oddly, a lilting French love song plays, "Le Courage d'Aimer" sung by Pierre Barouh.  It was only at this point that the film captured my attention.  There is extraordinary music by Wong Kar-wai’s musical composer Shigeru Umebayashi that prevails throughout the film, establishing a fragile underlying layer of beauty.  The policeman joins her family, which includes her physically imposing retarded brother and her grandfather, the man who gave the cop his tattoo.  Yoko suggests she might wish to get a female one-winged bird tattooed on her back, so the two of them could be united forever.  The myth, however, suggests this only happens in heaven, not on earth, so we are forewarned.


All is well until the brother sees them having sex, which sets off a flashpoint in his mind, as he witnessed his mother having sex at an early age and grows violent at the sight, comparing it to dogs copulating, which triggers an impulse in his head to shoot them.  But as this is his sister, someone he doesn’t wish to harm, he crawls up on top of a giant smokestack and sleeps off the night, an apt image for his perceived isolation.  The grandfather orders the policeman to leave Yoko alone, and for the sake of his brother, the policeman agrees.  But this can’t last.  Love finds a way.  Yoko decides to get her tattoo after all, but the grandfather calls for the policeman, needing to see his back to compare the colors, but grows too weary to complete the task, requiring the policeman’s help to finish the job.  In this manner, the family is reunited, and again, all appears to be reconciled, with images of a happy couple riding off together in marriage wearing white, as if the birds are flying freely at last, where the camera pans up into the white sky, an image of innocence, panning back down to earth where the screen turns black and we hear the sound of a gunshot – the end of innocence, reality sets in, very much like the slap in the face, or the whack on the butt for a newborn baby as it is welcomed out of the womb.  There is no way society could ever accept this couple, as they would always be seen as an example of something culturally taboo, irregardless of their professed love.  Icarus was not allowed to fly too close to the sun.  When he did, he would fall. 


RUNIN                                                           D                     61                                                       


Japan  (149 mi)  2004


RUNIN didn't really work for me, I preferred his first film, but the style and subject matter were interesting, with some gorgeous compositions.  An over the top, overly melodramatic film about doomed love featuring prisoners exiled to a Devils Island in the 1830’s off the coast of Japan, where the recurring dream is to get back to Edo and see the cherry blossoms in the spring, a reference to being free.  While the cinematography is first rate and the island locale is gorgeous, the filmmaking itself is mired in miserablism, taking us from one wretched disaster to the next, each more dreary than the last, where the human spirit is literally sucked out of each of these human souls, opening with men placed in large straw balls that are then rolled down the side of a mountain into the ocean, a man dressed as a geisha who services male sexual needs, but clings to a female geisha, a former red lantern geisha who services everyone else on the island, so the two are a gloomy pair, a newly arrived prisoner who sits atop a hilltop and studies the tidal patterns dreaming of escape.  Young women are victimized, tortured and murdered, a man goes blind, the island suffers from famine and bouts of starvation where hundreds die, prisoners trying to escape are shot or rolled down the mountain, each step on their path grows more pathetic until eventually, as a viewer, you’ve had your fill and it becomes ridiculous after awhile.  My favorite scene was an attempted suicide by drowning in the ocean, shown with gorgeous underwater photography, as the man ties himself to a stone and sinks.  Eventually, he changes his mind and decides to cut himself free, as we see the sun and floating jellyfish above.  Hard to see what others may like about this kind of costumed historical drama steeped in sex and violence, perhaps attempting to resemble the intimate sensuality of Nagisa Oshima’s doomed lovers in IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, but the mood here is overly solemn and self-pitying, accentuating their futility as prisoners with a sadistic flair, each person overly absorbed in the dispirited gloom of their unending captivity, languishing in the hell of eternal doom. 


Oldham, Gary


NIL BY MOUTH                                           A-                    93

Great Britain  (128 mi)  1997


A film dedicated to the memory of the first time director’s father, an in-your-face, frenetically paced film filled with profanity, set in a working class district in South London, similar to where Oldham spent his childhood, an area filled with violence, petty crime, drug addiction and alcoholism.  Using hand-held shots that give it a documentary look and a pulsating rhythm, this is a portrait of failure, one event after another, another film that is misery to watch, but exacting in what it reveals, a mood and atmosphere of the living moments of Raymond and Valerie, played with stunning energy by Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke (winner of Best Actress at 1997 Cannes Film Festival), a couple caught up in an abusive relationship. 


He is the abuser, a brutal alcoholic who also snorts coke, he literally bites part of the nose off of Billy, a junkie who steals from everyone.  The camera follows his step by step ritual of making a score followed by an immediate fix.  One scene is haunted by his mother’s gaze, played beautifully by Oldham’s sister, Laila Morse, as she watches him shoot up in her car.  Ray eventually pulverizes a pregnant Valerie in front of their 5-year old daughter in a moment of jealousy, possessiveness, and drug induced madness.  She leaves, while he destroys everything in the apartment, then pleads for her return.  The music at the end reveals the vicious circle, “Last Chance to Paradise, One More Time,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine,” sung by Valerie’s grandmother in a nightclub, while Ray is snuggling their daughter.  This is a seedy, violent portrait of alcoholic degeneration.  Ray blames his own father who he claims never game him an ounce of love, so he spends his life feeling no-feeling in a world of self-absorbed misery – a brutal paternal memory. 


Olivera, Héctor


NIGHT OF THE PENCILS (La noche de los lápices)

Argentina  (105 mi)  1986


Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) capsule review

The power and value of this docudrama--about the kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture of half a dozen high school activists by Argentina's military dictatorship in the mid-70s--are almost exclusively a matter of its effectiveness as agitprop. Made by Hector Olivera (Funny, Dirty Little War) in 1986, the film is marred by an obtrusive music score that needlessly underlines melodramatic moments and an occasional reliance on raw effect over logic (for instance, when the activists who demonstrate in favor of cheaper bus fares and against certain restrictions at school first learn that two of their members have been taken away, they don't even mention the names of these martyrs). Based on the testimony of Pablo Diaz, a student who was eventually released after four years of imprisonment (in contrast to the fate of others still missing), this horror story of torture, rape, and Kafkaesque totalitarian bureaucracy certainly has a brutal impact. One is made to share the pain and confusion of these bound and blindfolded teenagers (and the frustration of their parents, who try to learn their whereabouts), as well as their few moments of respite when they are able to communicate with one another from their separate cells (1989).

The Tech (MIT) (Manavendra K. Thakur) review

MUCH AS THE VIETNAM WAR seared the American consciousness, so too has Argentina's "Dirty War" left its indelible mark on the Argentinian psyche. Nine thousand people disappeared in the 1970s as the military dictatorship in power at the time brutally suppressed all things leftist, imagined or real. The dictatorship finally fell in 1983 after the Falklands War debacle, and many Argentinians -- filmmakers included -- have only recently begun to come to terms with their memories of having survived the Dirty War.

Héctor Olivera's notable new film La Noche de los Lapices ("The Night of the Pencils"), however, tells the story of a group of six high school children who did not survive. Their sole crime was their participation in a student protest for free bus passes. But the military junta saw them as subversives, and in September 1976 the homes of six students were raided in pre-dawn darkness. The students -- all of whom were less than 18 years old -- were brutally arrested and dumped in prison. The raid came be to known as the "night of the pencils." The film follows the story from the student protests in 1975 to November 1980 when the only student to survive the ordeal was finally released.

Clearly, this material could have easily degenerated into an Argentinian television movie of the week in the wrong hands. Fortunately, director Olivera seems to have kept his integrity mostly intact. He does not shy away from disturbing realities, and he draws a surprisingly complex portrait of the students, their captors, and the students' parents. The film's accomplishment in this regard is considerable and therefore worthy of serious attention.

This is especially true of the film's second half, which depicts the oppressive internment, harsh interrogation, and outright torture that await the students. The film does more than just dab grime and dirt on the actors' faces to create sympathy. It manages to create a genuinely moving and convincing picture of the ordeal these students went through. By describing everything from the small details that substitute for survival to the constant battle to maintain hope, Olivera recreates a nightmarish experience in very accessible and potent terms.

While the validity of that accomplishment is not open to question, the film does suffer from limitations. Paradoxically, the same qualities that enable Olivera to escape the standard television cliché's are the same qualities that prevent the film from rising above its limitations.

The film's major success is that it closes in and focuses intently on the experience of six individual people undergoing a terrible ordeal. However, that very fact is what causes the film to begin losing its social and political resonance: this could have been the story of any six young prisoners in any country around the world. The specific links between these individuals and the Argentine experience in the late 1970s start to come unraveled.

Ordinarily, one would applaud any effort to impart a universal value to a fairly specific story. However, in this particular case, the the tactic seems to have backfired. Ultimately, the film is not about politics or Argentina at all. Rather, it becomes a study of survival, an examination of humans under severe pressure. It is the conflict between these two disparate goals that creates the subtle pressures that hold back the film.

A truly visionary director might have been able to resolve the difficulties and transcend this limitation. In fact, one has come very close to doing just that -- Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket (1987). That film, which treated its characters and viewers with equal brutality, was an intensely clinical dissection of a hellish environment and the resultant pressures toward madness. At the same time, the film captured the paradoxes and absurdities that surrounded the American war in Vietnam. Olivera's film does not match that accomplishment, and it also cannot claim to match the electrifying impact of Alejandro Agresti's Love is a Fat Woman (1988), which also dealt with the Dirty War.

Still, the film does have enough good qualities that deserve recognition. La Noche de los Lapices succeeds enough that it will undoubtedly be remembered when film historians begin to chronicle the current Argentinian film renaissance. And in an increasingly commercialized filmmaking environment, that is no small achievement indeed.

The New York Times (Caryn James) review


Olmi, Ermanno


“Work is man’s chance to express himself, the average person’s opportunity to be creative...What I am against is the relationship man has today with the world in which he works.”          

—Ermanno Olmi


Ermanno Olmi | Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos | AllMovie  Sandra Brennan

Though not among Italy's most internationally renowned filmmakers, Ermanno Olmi ranks as one of his country's finest. He is known for making realistic films about the lives of average people that are infused with an almost austere subtlety and rare ambiguity that is sympathetic yet not overly sentimental. A native of Bergamo, Italy, he was the son of peasant factory workers. Following his father's death during WWII, Olmi and his mother supported the family working in the Edison-Volta electric plant where Olmi worked as a clerk. While there, he became involved in company-sponsored filmmaking and theatrical projects. Most of the films he made for the company had industrial themes. Eventually, he came to head the company film department and over the next seven years made many documentaries, notably his last Edison-Volta film, Il Tempo Si E Fermato (Time Stood Still), in 1959. It was with this film, a chronicle of the relationship that gradually developed between an elderly nightwatchman and his assistant while stationed at the construction site of an Alpine dam, that evidenced the sensitivity that would characterize Olmi's later works. The success of the film led Olmi to become a feature filmmaker. To that end, he traveled to Milan and co-founded the Twenty-Four Horses, an independent film co-op where he made his semi-autobiographical feature-film debut with Il Posto in 1961. Both this and his subsequent effort, I Fidanzati (The Fiancés) (1963), quickly earned him a good reputation and led him to make his one mainstream film, And There Came a Man (1965), an epic biography of Pope John XXIII. Unfortunately, this film — the only one in which he did not use nonprofessional actors — was a box-office flop and after making one more feature, Olmi became a television director. He did not make another feature until 1978. The film was The Tree of Wooden Clogs, a complex interweaving of the lives of five peasant families struggling to survive, and is considered Olmi's finest work.

Labor Relations  Ara H. Merjian from Artforum magazine, September 29, 2009

IN ONE OF THE MANY CLOSE-UPS in Ermanno Olmi’s Il posto (1961), audiences come face-to-face with the film’s young, wide-eyed protagonist, Domenico, who is seated at the desk of his new big-city position (the “posto” in question), staring at a mimeograph machine as his colleague’s arm works the machine’s rotating plates. The boy’s glazed look registers the rote ceremony with a kind of detached horror. We watch as this aspiring office worker—recently arrived in Milan from a small town—is inducted into the unfeeling rituals of corporate efficiency. More an affectless anticlimax than a momentous denouement, this shot–reverse shot arguably constitutes Il posto’s key moment, a condensation of the film’s chilling pathos and wry humor. For Italy’s belated arrival as an economic and industrial powerhouse after World War II came at a dire price—one etched, with a confusion at once ineffable and definite, into Domenico’s ingenuous face.

As part of what film scholar P. Adams Sitney once dubbed “New Wave Neorealism,” Il posto rode the resurgence of Italy’s postwar cinema scene, which had crested a year earlier with Fellini’s La dolce vita, Antonioni’s L’avventura, and Visconti’s Rocco e i sue fratelli. Like these directors, the young Olmi used the recent lessons of Neorealist film to forge his own, somewhat more auteurist vision—though one still rooted in a basic concern with ordinary subjects and featuring nonprofessional actors. If any single leitmotif links together the works in Olmi’s expansive oeuvre, which has evolved over several generations and countless governments, it is the theme of work. Whether as a dehumanizing atomization of individual plight or a redemptive source of intimacy and solidarity, the labor trope threads together films as disparate in setting and subject as Il posto, One Fine Day (1969), and The Scavengers (1970).

In ways comparable to his contemporary Pier Paolo Pasolini, Olmi fetishized certain aspects of premodern society and culture, using them as counterpoints to the alienated (and alienating) conditions that subtended Italy’s induction to urban modernity. Another peer, Antonioni, distilled that alienation into a visual and spatial subject in its own right. But Olmi never relinquished his belief in, and evocation of, the redemptive humanism of social bonds. Olmi’s origins—he hails from a Lombardian farming family of humble means and worked as a clerk for the Edison-Volta electric plant before turning to film—clearly inform his cinematic career. Perhaps most striking in this vein is the nostalgia that underlines his important film The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978), for which he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. (All the film’s actors were peasants with no previous acting experience.) But if this film revisited the spontaneous rhythms and humble textures characteristic of Neorealism (Visconti’s 1948 La terra trema stands as a notable precedent), Olmi’s work also increasingly engaged with aspects of cinematic modernism. The Circumstance (1974) ventured further in this direction than his other works, while still engaging with the theme of work (in this case, the consequences of industrialization on its bourgeois protagonists).

In Terra madre (2009), a documentary released this year that focuses on Italy’s so-called Slow Food movement, the octogenarian Olmi returns to a genre that informed his cinematic debut. (He incorporated aspects of documentary into his 1959 Time Stood Still, which considered the relationship between two laborers, one young and one old.) Whether in this final work or manifested in the environmental concerns of his 1993 narrative, The Secret of the Old Woods, Olmi has refused to recoil from the ideological and social concerns that shaped his earliest efforts. A fixture of Italy’s cinematic history and an industry outsider, Olmi stands as both emblematic of the Italian postwar film scene and exceptional to some of its fitful logics.

On Earth as it is in Heaven: Ermanno Olmi - Film Comment  Deborah Young, March/April 2001

It's strange that so few directors in Italy are religious, at least in the sense that their films are imbued with signs of their faith. Though they share real estate with the Vatican—or maybe because of its very proximity, on the theory that familiarity breeds contempt—Italian filmmakers are much better known for political militancy than religious fervor. Among the few exceptions are Roberto Rossellini and, in a complex way, Pier Paolo Pasolini. And most emphatically, Ermanno Olmi.

When we met in Rome to talk about his films, it was the Epiphany, the last of the Christmas holidays. The 69-year-old director and his wife, Loredana, had just dragged themselves back to their hotel from the end-of-Jubilee closing of the Holy Door at the Vatican, where millions had stood in line for hours to receive an indulgence. As the director of a papal biopic, he was on familiar turf.

The sacredness of life, the dignity of work, and man’s search for the highest spiritual values are themes that deeply color his 14 features and later documentaries. It’s as impossible to look at Olmi’s films without taking his Christianity into account as it would be to rub religion from the work of Krzysztof Zanussi, his Polish contemporary and friend. Note, he’s also far from the mystical-supernatural current of films like Breaking the Waves and American Beauty. Olmi has the earthy consciousness of an organic farmer, one who disdains pesticides, plants by the moon, and thanks Providence for an abundant harvest. There is nothing mystical about his brand of callus-handed Christianity, with its love for all creatures great and small and particularly man in all his defects.

In this and other ways, Olmi’s whole career is an anomaly on the Italian scene. Living in self-imposed isolation in the Dolomites high on the Asiago plateau, not far from his native Bergamo, he remains deliberately outside the ebb and flow of Italian film culture (admittedly not the most exalted in recent decades). A family man and hermit who, like Lars von Trier, shudders at the idea of setting foot in a plane, he keeps no videocassettes of his films, no set photos, and begins rare interviews with the disclaimer: “Cinema is not my life. Living is.”

His new film, The Profession of Arms, will be released in Italy in March. A bloodcurdling historical epic about the invention of the cannon, it is vehemently anti-war. Ipotesi Cinema, the utopian film school based on alternative production methods that he founded in the mountain town of Bassano del Grappa and has directed since 1982, is taking new directions, but its many alumni—including directors Francesca Archibugi, Giacomo Campiotti, Maurizio Zaccaro, and Isabella Sandri—still call on him like “a father” to keep him abreast of their new projects.

In Italy, the critics have begrudgingly admitted that Olmi is a major director of his generation, adding points for his supposed “peasant” origins, and subtracting them whenever his faith became explicit. The Tree of the Wooden Clogs (78) was flogged for its Catholic-populist vision, which supposedly idealizes resigned humility in the face of oppressive power. One admirer of The Legend of the Holy Drinker (88) couldn’t help holding his nose at “the smell of the sacristy” it exuded. But this is a nation chock-full of religious complexes.

It’s not that Olmi is seen as a director who lacks a social conscience; it’s that his films resolutely sidestepped social outrage and analysis when all around him filmmakers were waving flags from the front line of social commitment. True, two of his least successful pictures take religion as their subject, A Man Named John (65), a dutiful biography of Pope John XXIII narrated by Rod Steiger, and Keep Walking (Cammina Cammina, 83), an uninspired view of the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. But once he steps away from recounting Christianity and allows it to function in the background as unverbalized metaphor, he hits his stride.

The early documentaries, made in-house for the electric company Edison Volta, reveal how intimately familiar Olmi was with working-class life in the Fifties. He captures the spirit of transformation that was shaking the country as it walked the path to industrialization. This becomes a key theme in films like One Fine Day (68), where the values of rural society disintegrate in his portrait of a Lombard industrialist who accidentally runs over a man in his car, and The Tree of the Wooden Clogs, which poignantly sings the swan song of an Eden-like harmony between man and nature.

The pleasure to be found in watching Olmi’s work today lies in its undiminished depth and mystery. In his never-ending effort to get under his characters’ skins, Olmi recalls Nana’s instructions in Vivre sa vie: “A chicken is an animal composed of an inside and an outside. Take away the outside and you get the inside. Take away the inside and you get the soul.” Olmi is out to photograph that soul.

Those Olmi faces. They remain unforgettable, even years after seeing them: the Kafkaesque victimhood of the office boy in Il Posto (The Job, 61), the angelic roundness of the peasant-bride in The Tree of the Wooden Clogs, the petrified mask of evil of the Lady in Long Live the Lady! The Legend of the Holy Drinker. He has always preferred non-professional actors. Their unguarded gazes and non-acting, at least in his hands, allow a clearer view into their inner nature.

From the beginning, Olmi made observation into a moral principle. For a feature-length documentary Edison Volta designed to plug the efficiency of the company’s guards at its big mountain dams turned into his first fiction film. Time Stood Still (59) is the first of a trio of black-and-white pictures that remain among his finest work. Time Stood Still is the purest of them all and the one most strongly influenced by neorealism. Time loses its workaday connotations up in the mountains, where it’s just man and nature, immortalized in the image of a boy tossing himself playfully into a heavy snowdrift and leaving cookie-cutter outlines in the snow.

But eventually even Olmi’s characters have to face up to city traffic and a day at the office. Il Posto is a definitive look at the plight of office workers, lambasting their busy do-nothingness with killing comprehension. As wistfully comic in its straight-faced way as Chaplin’s Modern Times, it foretells the inhuman new world being ushered in by the economic boom of the Sixties.

At 15, bashful Domenico ventures from his family’s semi-rural home on the outskirts of Milan to try out for a job with a large, impersonal firm in the city, his mother wishing him “a secure job for the rest of his life.” Ugh. He drags himself past a horse-drawn cart and farm equipment, almost missing the train for his big interview. There, in the company of 20 other hopefuls, he submits to an excruciating but hilarious “psycho-technical exam” that includes demonstrating a knowledge of arithmetic and an ability to flex the knees.

Doing his own camerawork, Olmi crisply conveys the spic-and-span shine of bureaucratic glass and the pompous medical-educational atmosphere spun like a web around the applicants. With his farm boy naivete, the preternaturally serious Domenico is a fish out of water (a metaphor visualized in the film) who throws himself into adapting to his “exciting” new environment. As spectators we see through the company’s phony paternalism; why, then, do we find ourselves cheering for the assistant doorman’s promotion to a pool of paper-pushers?

After courting a pretty girl who applies with him, then losing sight of her because the company assigns them to different buildings and different shifts, Domenico watches his love life definitively collapse at the company’s New Year’s Eve party, a climax of horror that makes The Fireman’s Ball look like a Hollywood bash. Tempering Forman’s cruelty, Olmi ends the interminable evening with his characteres truly enjoying themselves. Talk about turning a scene around! This is very slow cinema, one of the director’s most demanding traits; but for those who can sit through it, its ruthless portrayal of life in the tortoise lane is devastating.

By his third film, The Fiancés (63), Olmi begins to pull away from a head-on documentary look. The editing is much less linear, looking forward to the smoother use of fragmented structure in The Circumstance (74), where parallel stories reflect a family’s disintegration. Stuffed with flashbacks, flashforwards, dreams, and memories, The Fiancés is curiously disjointed, as though Olmi still had misgivings about introducing characters, acting, and a story line.

Through Giovanni’s eyes, we see the sunbaked Sicilian world and its local customs. Olmi contrasts the inhuman scale of the steel plant, typically shot from high cranes, to soulful snatches of nature: windmills, the sea, fields stacked with cones of salt, a sudden storm.

Not surprisingly, the film champions the rhythms of nature and man over the artificial work-time imposed by heavy industry. The last shots, showing children staring in awe at a downpour while Giovanni regrets having to go to work on such a day (it’s even Sunday, so the Lord’s agin’ it, too), flash us forward to The Tree of the Wooden Clogs and its peasant wisdom that outlaws work when it’s raining.

Ironically, The Tree of the Wooden Clogs, Olmi’s international breakthrough, was originally made as a three-hour, three-part TV series, but went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1978. This tale of peasant survival in late-l9th-century Lombardy is understandably considered his masterpiece. It is certainly a case of the right director meeting the right material, over which he had nearly total control (as in his previous work, Olmi also shot, edited, and wrote the film).

The illusion of recapturing lost time—here, the misery, hard labor, simple joys, and natural rhythms of the peasant, world—has rarely been more convincing. We watch the opening hour for the sheer beauty of the shots, its simplicity, humility, and quietude. Returning to the documentary techniques he used to such great effect in his first three films, Olmi virtually eliminates characters and dialogue. His camera darts randomly among four families who live in a sprawling farmhouse belonging to a rich landowner. Little better than serfs, they till his fields and raise his livestock, and hand him two-thirds of every lira they earn. We watch them doing the field work, singing songs, killing a goose, butchering a hog, husking corn, and washing clothes in the river as babies wail in the background.

Where in 1900, Bertolucci gave the padroni the familiar faces of Robert De Niro and Dominque Sanda, in Tree we barely glimpse the man who holds the power of life and death over these sons of the earth. Olmi’s maximum comment on the landowners is to associate them with opera and chamber music; the peasants he identifies with the sublime J.S. Bach. The fast cutting and initial lack of close-ups keeps them from emerging as individuals until the film is well advanced. They are literally part of the landscape. We feel their closeness to nature—the moon, snow, rain, the earth, the changing seasons. Even a boy’s chaste courtship of a girl takes place on the road, in the midst of nature. When he asks for a kiss, she tells him they must “wait for their time.”

Tree exalts two social institutions, the family and the church, as the containers of moral values. Like Bach’s music, the bells that ring throughout Olmi’s film seem to come directly from heaven. God is watching over these simple folk. Viewers allergic to Christianity are advised to review Breaking the Waves.

The film’s great and undeniable religious intensity was considered “reactionary” and “mystifying” by some Italian left-wing critics. They accused Olmi of being an apologist for an unchanging natural world and an enemy of modernity, but I think that, whether the director intended to or not, the film makes us understand why that natural life had to end. The offscreen cruelty of the final scene forces the viewer to supply the missing piece. What in the world is going to happen to the displaced family of Minek, the boy with the wooden clogs who dared to go to school? Good-bye farm idyll; we want a revolution and we want it now!

Great social uprisings hover in the background of Maddalena and Stefano’s wedding trip to Milan. A ripple of fear empties the street and for a moment we think they’ll be trampled underfoot by the Italian army, busy repressing popular unrest. Instead, Olmi leaves this future shock off-screen, noting its presence but perhaps unwilling to face it himself. The two innocents spend their wedding night in a convent, where they receive a gift of Providence: a baby orphan whose annual endowment will save them from poverty. This wild narrative invention, a throwback to penny novels (or to classical Lombard novelist Alessandro Manzoni), is one of the most spookily moving scenes in all of Italian cinema.

Gifts of Providence return in The Legend of the Holy Drinker, based on a marvelously concise novel by Austrian writer and renowned alcoholic Joseph Roth. Olmi stretches the story into a rosy-hued, over-long, but still captivating movie. It is the closest he has come to making a card-carrying European art film. Part of the explanation for its less artisanal look is health-related: a chronic viral infection that first struck him in 1984 and which has made it increasingly difficult for him to continue working as a one-man film crew. In Drinker for the first time he uses a professional actor and hands the camerawork over to Italian cinematographer Dante Spinotti.

Though it shamelessly tugs on the heartstrings, the story is so mysterious that it delves beyond surface emotion to something deeper. Andreas, an alcoholic Polish miner who sleeps under the bridges of the Seine, one day receives a gift of 200 francs from a mysterious benefactor. He asks only that Andreas repay it, when he can, to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “little saint” whose church is Holy Mary of the Batignolles. Andreas may be a bum, but he is a man of honor and insists he will repay his debt. Circumstances, and his own weak will, keep preventing this from happening.

The pleasures of the film are many. They include the slow reach of hands for money (Olmi has never been more confident in letting images tell the story instead of words), a ballroom shot like a cathedral, a heady succession of miracles, Hauer’s dignified, all-too-human drunk, and an uncanny use of Stravinsky’s music to give the story a thousand different moods. The film also contains what arguably may be the best representation of a saint on celluloid. Ambiguity is naturally the keyword: is all this really happening?

The film ends with Roth’s inscrutable epitaph: “God grant all of us drinkers such a fine and easy death.” As Olmi glosses it, “If I think of the moment when I, like everyone else, will have to add up the credits and debits in my ledger, I’d like that moment to be so sweet and easy that I don’t even notice I’ve paid my debt.”

In Olmi’s world, that debt is love, and those who give a gift of love are saved. The forms of love—friendly, maternal, sentimental, erotic, platonic, spiritual—blend into a single sacred thread run- ning through all his characters. It is the give-and-take by which they relate to each other and reach out, upconsciously, for their salvation. From the plucky student in Time Stood Still to Johannes De Medici, the noble warrior in The Profession of Arms, it girds them with a core of values that no landlord, employer, or war can shake. It’s what makes them human and, in the last analysis, invincible.

Reflecting Reality. ERMANNO OLMI - Documents  Reflecting Reality--and Mystery: An Interview with Ermanno Olmi, Bert Cardullo interviews Olmi in English language from Cineaste magazine, August 2008

Although thematically he inverts neorealism by studying the human accommodation to difficult external circumstances, Ermanno Olmi (born 1931) is perhaps the best exemplar after neorealism of the neorealist style, with its disdain (in theory if not always in practice) for dramatic contrivance and fictive invention. His films offer slices of life “of ordinary peoples unspectacular liveswith indefinite or inconclusive endings; they simulate documentary methods in staging and photography, as they are all shot in actual locations and almost all of them feature non-actors; and they aspire not to proposition or evocation but only toward accurate representation. Olmi’s later works depart from the neorealist style of Il posto (1961) and I fidanzati (1963), his second and third pictures, but even they are characterized by a kind of non-discursiveness. As befits a master filmmaker, Ermanno Olmi is reluctant to give interviews; he prefers to let his films speak for themselves. Ever a shy, self-effacing man, Olmi was especially sparse with words when awarded the Golden Lion at the 1988 Venice festival for The Legend of the Holy Drinker, as well as the Golden Palm at the 1978 Cannes festival for The Tree of Wooden Clogs. And there hasn’t been a published interview with Olmi for quite some time. One reason for the reticence is his embarrassment at having to answer those all too frequent, nagging “how are you? and what have you been doing? questions. For between the Cannes premieres of The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) and Keep Walking (1983) lay five years of inactivity, then another four years until Long Live the Lady! (1987) won the Silver Lion at Venice. During much of this time, he had been wrestling with a long and sometimes paralyzing illness, from which he has since recovered; still, several years of inactivity continue to separate his feature films.

Before proper introductions could be made between us, Olmi queried why I had bothered to come to interview him at all: “You know my answers as well as your questions, so what’s the sense of it? Nonetheless, speaking in rounded phrases with a sonorous voice, he began to muse philosophically in his Lombardy dialect about his profession, about how he seldom needed to go far from home to film a story that was “part of me,about how the only measure of a films importance is its ability to reflect the human common denominator,”or the need for spiritual values, for mystical tenderness between human beings, in a cold world. Genesis: The Creation and the Flood (1994), for example, is “about us, not an homage to a distant deity in some picture-book. Like all his masterpieces, this portion of The Bible (produced by Lux), his feature-length episode in the series made for Raiuno and Lube-Beta Film, is meant to be a personal encounter, a film carved with a storyteller’s imagination from handed-down oral tradition that can enchant the hearts as well as minds of an audience. In the same room with us sat Loredana Detto, Olmis wife, taking it all in with the same wistful charm and anchoring attention that captured the heart of the youth Domenico in Il posto, perhaps this director’s most important film. Il Posto is the story of a Lombard peasant boy who applies for an available office job in a large Milan company, and at the same time falls shyly in love with a young secretary, Magali (Loredana Detto). The core of the film is a reflection on work,a reflection in this case drawn from Olmis own recollections of himself as an eighteen-year-old looking for and finding employment at the Edison volta company. (The Tree of Wooden Clogs is also autobiographical, in the sense that it was drawn from stories about country people told to him by his grandfather.)

The following interview took place in August 2008 at Ermanno Olmi’s home in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, northeast of Milan. My plan was to get the director to open up a little more than usual both by avoiding the subject of his individual films themselves,”the circumstances surrounding their making, the people in them, the amount of money they made, their critical reception, etc.,and by scrupulously avoiding questions about his personal life. In order to accommodate me, Olmi spoke in high Italian (as opposed to his native Lombardy dialect) as much as possible.

Cineaste: I’d like to focus today, Signor Olmi, on a general or theoretical discussion of the cinema, of your cinema, as opposed to a specific discussion of your individual films themselves. Is this acceptable to you?

Ermanno Olmi: Yes, that’s fine. It also makes for a nice change of pace.

Cineaste: Nothing much happens in an Olmi filmthat is, if you require the equivalent of a roller-coaster ride with all the requisite thrills and chills. Instead of giving your audience a boldly defined series of actions moving the story along at a furious pace, you share with the audience small moments that gradually build into the powerful understanding – emotional as well as cognitiveof an experience. Using real people instead of actors, you follow your subjects as they live in real time, gently shaping their lives into fiction with your authorial hand. Why do you work in this way?

Olmi: Shooting freely with a handheld camera, never selecting anything in advance, I find that everything happens almost spontaneously. It doesn’t happen by design, by planning. Why do I work in this way? Because it is important that the operative technical moment be enveloped in the many emotions that are in the air at the moment one lives in the scene. There must always be a participation, a collision with the moment; this is what determines the choice of image. Otherwise, it’s like going up to a loved one and first thinking, When we meet, Ill touch her hand, and then kiss her like this, then say these words . . .”

Cineaste: Working in such a way, do you get frustrated by the limitations of the frame?

Olmi: The frame is not a frustration to me, perhaps also because I work without pre-planned shots. The frame becomes a way of focusing, not a composition in itself, because it corresponds to the things I want to look at in a particular moment. It’s good that there is, outside the frame, a discussion that continues – as it weresomething I can imagine and even desire. The same is true in literature, where there are phrases that let you think of an infinity of other words which are even more beautiful because they aren’t said.

Cineaste: In pre-packaged movies of the Hollywood kindwhich are planned by the art director and all the technical staff – the camera merely establishes a framing angle selected in advance, and all the things written in the script occur within this fixed frame.

Olmi: My own procedure, as you know, is different. At the beginning, I dont think about the camera. I think about the ambience and all the events that are to be presented: place, lighting, people, color. I construct the fiction I need. When I feel that this fiction corresponds to my needs, then I go to the camera and let myself be dragged along by the event without establishing beforehand that “here Ill do a close-up, a long shot, or a camera movement. With each shot I participate in the event almost instinctively, gathering up what happens and responding accordingly. Its rare that I decide anything in advance. I invent the action at the moment it takes place. I almost always work with a handheld camera and, having to get direct sound when there is dialogue, I need a very heavy camera since I shoot in 35mm and therefore have to put it on a tripod with wheels. I never do dolly shots or tracks; I never put the camera at a level higher or lower than a horizontal line drawn at eye-level, though sometimes I go out on a balcony or shoot through a window. The camera is on this wheeled tripod, but I move it as if it were part of me, and always at my own height. I always use the camera in this objective way.

Cineaste: What’s the difference between your method of filming and the one used in documentaries?

Olmi: The difference from the documentary isn’t so much in the techniques of shooting because, for example, as in my films, in a documentary there isnt any elaborate lighting, to name just one technical element. For me, the technique of shooting is almost the same. The difference is that in a documentary I shoot a reality from outside my will; thus my critical participation in the event lies only in choosing with the camera the image that, at that moment, I find most interesting in a documentation of the event. In the case of a fiction film, reality doesn’t happen outside my will, but is organized within me, inside my consciousness. Thus, my critical judgment and my suggestion of content lie above all in the organization of the event. As for my approach to the shooting, I do it just as in a documentary, such that I do not deceive the viewer with a suggestion made through certain acrobatics of the camera or through the use of a redundant little touch in the lights or the atmosphere. In sum, even when the camera is objective in this way, the subjectivity is my own.

Cineaste: Doesn’t this make you feel all alone, as if you are creating a world to the exclusion of everyone else?

Olmi: I never feel alone. Im convinced that participating with me in the action, in this event, are many others. Its not my personal point of view. Certainly it is, in the sense that I decide. However, the sensation I have is that these choices of mine are not only mine but that others have them, too. I really dont feel exclusive, that I exclude anybody. There is a certain type of intellectual who, either out of presumption towards himself or contempt towards others – which is the same thinghas the ambition to be so subjective, to be the only one, to observe life and events from such an isolated perspective. My ambition, instead – perhaps because of my peasant/worker extractionis to look at the world with others, not as an aristocratic intellectual, an elitist, but as someone who mixes with other people as much as possible.

Cineaste: But there are excellent directors who, unlike you, work with camera operators. As you have been saying, you yourself are behind the camera.

Olmi: Well, everyone makes love the way they want to, in the way that they themselves feel. Again, conventional shooting is like going up to a loved one and first thinking, “When we meet, Ill touch her hand, and then kiss her like this, then utter these words . . .Certainly we go to this intimate meeting with a whole series of motives, but it is only during the meeting itself that these motives assume their final expressive physiognomy. There is another reason I am behind the camera. Because otherwise it would be like going up to a girl and saying, “I love you but now hes going to kiss you for me.

Cineaste: Why do you use non-professional actors in your films?

Olmi: I use non-professionals for more or less the same reasons I choose a real landscape over one reconstructed in the studio. For Barry Lyndon, for example, Stanley Kubrick looked all over Europe to find the pastoral landscape and atmosphere that corresponded to his expressive needs. Onto this countryside – this choice that he made from the realhe grafted his professional actors. I prefer to continue such a relationship with reality, but not with professional actors. The real tree is continuously creative; the artificial tree isn’t. The fake tree responds to the creative needs of a fact (let us call it) already laid out and defined, and stops there. The real tree has continuing virtues: it responds to and reflects light in ever new ways. When you shoot in the studio, you’ve set up the lighting in advance; the lights are the same from beginning to end. You can shoot the same shot a hundred times and it will be the same. The real tree, on the other hand, is in continual evolution, modifying itself inside the situation, so much so that you become anxious lest you not be able to capture a particular moment when the light is changing. This, too, is very beautiful, because between the first shot and the fourth and the fifth there are variations –  the shot is continually palpitating, in a manner of speaking. Thus it goes with actors, as well.

Cineaste: So youre saying that you can never get this same effectof palpitationfrom a professional actor.

Olmi: I have always felt in professional actors a bit of cardboard with respect to the great palpitating authenticity of the real character, who was not chosen, as professionals are, for their beautiful looks, or because they characterize a certain type. For instance, in a film about peasants I choose the actors from the peasant world. I don’t use a fig to make a pear. These people, these characters, bring to the film a weight, really a constitution of truth, which, provoked by the situations in which the characters find themselves, creates palpitations – those vibrations so right, so real, so believable, and therefore not repeatable. At the twentieth take the professional actor still cries. The real actor, the character taken from life, wont do more than four repetitions. It’s like capturing a light: either you get it at that moment or you dont get it at all. But it isnt that he exhausts himself; he becomes something else. And my emotion lies also in following these things, at the moment they occur.

Cineaste: What’s the relationship of your non-professional performer to the reality from which he is drawn?

Olmi: Since all manifestations of life are life, its not that there is more life in a man, in one of my non-professionals, than in a frog or a tree. Life is life represented in all forms of expression. It’s so extraordinary and mysterious that we cannot know all these forms of life. Truth is the same thing. Its not true, for example, that there is more truth in dialogue between real persons than in a poem or a piece of fiction. This depends on the presuppositions that have generated the words or the dialogue, the truth of one’s authentic emotions. False emotions are always discovered for what they are. Some would say that the raw material of film is the image, but it’s not just the image. Today we have the image, sound, rhythm. All that is so simple, and at the same time it is complex, just like the unwinding or playing out of life itself. While sound is one moment here, and the image there, cinema is this extraordinary instrument that allows you to reproduce, but reproduce isnt the exact word, to repropose some of those moments, some of the fractions of life, to select and compose them into a new mosaic through the editing. This operation consists of choice, image, sound, rhythm, synthesis. In the case of my films, they contain a reality that is entirely taken from the real. Within this reality there is the echo of the documentary, but this is documentation that is critically penetrated and put at the service of the content presented.

Cineaste: Unlike many commercial directors, then, you see the cinema as a whole art, as an art unto itself.

Olmi: Yes, for in a certain sense, it’s a contradiction to use cinema as a substitute for literature, for music, for the theater. Even when we want to make a film full of conceptual ideas, it’s obvious we must make choices of representation from lifechoices embodied in image, sound, and rhythmto express those ideas. This means that the image, the music, the action aren’t by themselves sufficient vehicles to express a concept. They become significant, if at all, all together. And this is why I must express a concept or an idea through the dialogue between the main characters, shots of their faces, shots of how they move, in what situations, in what light, with what rhythm. It’s not that one element repeats the other; but, just as in literature I choose this word rather than one that closely resembles it, so too in film I choose precisely that word because only that word can express the particular thing I want. Then I choose this image because it can say something better than anything else, and that sound because . . . You see? It’s as if the cinema were a language that, instead of having only words, has words, images, sounds – a language, in short, that is the language of life itself. We speak with gestures, with looks, with the very sound of the word as well as with its meaning. If I say Good evening to you in three different ways, the sound is different each time, as is the facial expression and therefore the meaning. This is cinema: nouns, adjectives, parts of sentences that belong to a special syntax and organization.

Cineaste: How does lighting figure in everything you’ve said so far, in your approach to the filming of reality?

Olmi: Beauty, emotions, must be revealed by indications that most resemble reality, not by artificial ones; and this certainly includes lighting. Why? So that the viewer’s approach to the screen isnt protected or even deceived by devices, but that instead he succeeds in discovering by himself certain values, certain atmospheres, certain states of mind, through indications on the screen that are more those of life than those of theatricality, in the sense of spectacle. When I do use artificial illumination, it’s because such illumination is necessary for the effects of the film stock; otherwise, sometimes the light doesnt reach the film. But I also do this at the same time that I respect the natural environment as much as possible.

Cineaste: What about filters?

Olmi: I never use special filters to alter or in some way modify the tonalities of the natural atmosphere. For instance, when I shoot a close-up of the female lead in a romantic situation, I don’t use filters that normally a script would call for in order to make her seem commercially beautiful or alluring. To give you a technical example from shooting, when I film in a particular place, I don’t set up the framing and then, on the basis of that framing, establish the lighting. I first set up the kind of lighting that will allow me to shoot anywhere in that location. Since I do the camerawork myself – again, I operate the camera, which is not the same thing as doing the lighting, for that is the job of my cinematographer – I know exactly what I have shot, so much so that often I dont even have to look at the developed film, the rushes or the dailies; I just call the developer and if he says the negative is okay, its fine for me.

Cineaste: I am assuming you do your own editing.

Olmi: Of course. I am one who still works a great deal at the Movieola. For The Tree of Wooden Clogs, I was there for a whole year. The editing is the moment when all the emotions I felt when I began to think about the film, to conceive it, to choose the locations, the faces – all these thingsthe editing is the moment when everything comes together. You could say that during this time, I total my bill, I work out this choice or that synthesis, I sum up the emotion of all my emotions concerning this particular film. It’s not administrative work in the sense that I look at the script and say, Okay, for this scene we need such-and-such a cut. And for that scene a close-up is required. Its a new creative moment, an extraordinary moment. This is because I rarely write systematic, organized screenplays; instead, I scribble lots of notes. When I’m shooting, I arrive on the set with all these noteslittle pieces of paper filled with jottings about dialogue, atmosphere, faces – and there, on the set, I begin a new critical-creative phasenot critical-executiveas I think about the shots I want to take. The editing, naturally, is a continuation of this critical-creative process.

Cineaste: Where, or how, does you writing begin?

Olmi: First I write down the suggestion or indication of a subject or a story, then I divide it up into many chapters, many moments, like the movements of a concerto. And everything that comes into my mind regarding one of these chapters – at any moment when I am scouting locations or the like; I write down on pieces of paper and incorporate them into the chapter in question. Then, when it comes time to shoot, I organize the fraction of the story I am shooting in the most specific way possible. But when I’m there, shooting, I am often, lets not say ready to change everything, but to add or to subtract as I see fit. Thats why I never have a completed script. This is how I like to shoot, how I frame my shots and film the action. When I’m at the Movieola, I dont look at any of the written stuff again. Its a new event that is occurring at the editing table. So artistic creation, like romantic love, is always in the act of becoming; its always in motion, with no real stops. For when there are stops, one isn’t making love.

Cineaste: What do you think of the manipulative aspect of filmmaking, of how movies manipulate their audiences; all movies, possibly including your own?

Olmi: Everything is manipulated in a sense, everything: not only the cinema but the economy, religion, any of man’s activities can be corruptingor saving. It really depends on the moral basis upon which you do these things, both in producing and in consuming them. Even the automobile can be corrupting or saving. If we use it to dangerously pass others, to give us a sense of power through the engine’s horsepower instead of through the horsepower of our own minds and imaginations, then the automobile can be a negative thing. For example, even neorealism degenerated at a certain point because it had become a fad, a fashion, a slick operation, and suddenly it was enough to qualify as a “neorealistic director if you made a certain type of film, in a certain waynever mind its substance. This also happened to the French New Wave after a while, where if you didn’t make the camera jiggle when you were shooting a subject, somehow it didnt seem real.” But its real if you are real in front of what you are shooting, if the things that you are filming have an authenticity of their own. If not, you may as well work in the theater, which has its own aesthetic and reason for being apart from those of the cinema. So unmasking the illusion is fine, if that’s what it takes to keep realism from degenerating into artifice. For, clearly, resemblance to reality is not reality. This is obvious – or it should be.

Cineaste: You are beginning to sound like a Brechtian in the cinema.

Olmi: Yes, but sometimes, even in Brechts aesthetic, this attempt to “disenchant the spectator, to remind him that what he is seeing is theater, in itself reinforces the magical component of theater. When the grandmother tells her grandson a fairy tale, the story of Little Red Riding Hood with all the emotions inherent in it – the girl, the woods, the wolfthe grandmothers face continually reminds the grandson that between the reality of the fairy tale and himself there is always his grandmothers face. Nonetheless, sometimes the grandmother increases, by her very tone and expression, the fairy tale’s power of suggestion, its forcefulness. So this attempt to mediate between the magic of theatricality, or the illusion of reality, and the experience of the spectatorto disenchant or distancecan be reinforcing instead of the opposite. In my opinion, however, neither takes away from or adds very much to the need man has to experience both the emotion of fear, at a child’s level, and the satisfaction of recognition, at an adult level, through the telling of the fairy tale. This is because we all want to share the feeling of not risking our safety, of not being in direct contact with the frightful event, but instead in the comforting arms of Grandmother, in the armchair at the cinema, or in our living rooms in front of the television set, which protects us and guarantees our safety. We even protect ourselves to the point that sometimes authentic reality – television news or documentary film, for instancebecomes transformed, in the safety of our homes, into its own kind of fairy tale, by means of which we see real events far removed from our consciences and our responsibility. In such a fairy-tale atmosphere, these events do not touch us physically or morally; we participate in them neither in body nor in soul. What we see “enchants us, and we want to see it in the context of this enchantment. Indeed, we enjoy the fact that, yes, theater and cinemaespecially the cinemaremind us of reality, but they remind us even more of the fairy tale. This is why we can watch with total concentration and excitement as people fight and kill each other on the screen, at the same time as we self-assuredly stir our coffee or eat our popcorn.

Cineaste: These things are hard to talk about in terms of classifications or designations – fairy tale, reality, disenchantment, empathy, etc.this is something I have learned.

Olmi: Yes, and lets take Brecht again as an instance. What does Brecht try to do? To disenchant us so that our critical faculty is always active. Thus he says, “Dont be taken in by this. Be careful, I am acting; watch carefully so that you wont be taken in. I understand this critical distance. The spectator in the cinema or the theater feels fear; he tells himself that what hes seeing is not real so that he can feel defended against it; and then he returns back to his fear. Such critical distancing is like Grandmother’s face: its Grandmother who is telling the story, and this is why her grandson can comfortably feel his fear. Such a theory as Brecht’s is important for the viewer, but what happens? Brecht doesnt always achieve the result that he intendedin fact, he rarely does. Why? Because if you come with your own ability to critically distance yourself from an aesthetic event, to analyze it by yourself, sometimes you can be disturbed by someone who wants to “cue your distancing or to distance you from what youre seeing even more than you ordinarily would be. If, on the other hand, you dont have any ability, on your own, to critically distance yourself from an aesthetic event – if you are over-emotional, let us say, and feel immediately stirred just by the exterior aspect of characters kissing or horses gallopingyou can feel equally disenfranchised by someone who wants to pull you back from what you are seeing. Or the opposite: an emotional spectator can take the distancing devices so seriously that he becomes nothing but distanced from the artistic event, to the point that he has completely, and misguidedly, suppressed his emotional involvement in that event. Participation in an artistic event, in short, is many-sided and more complex than most theorists make it out to be. One can participate in an emotion, for example, but, at the same time, one can force a series of “postponents on ones emotions that cannot be seen with the eyes and may not even be acknowledged by the conscious mind. People are different, and so is the camera: the same camera in the hands of ten different people shooting the same picture will, without question, take ten different pictures.

Cineaste: Could you speak a bit now about your early experiences of the cinema and your contact with American movies?

Olmi: I would very much like to do so. When, as a child, I went out to the cinema, I always felt good, and I felt especially good when I started seeing the differences between Hollywood cinema – global Hollywood cinema, if you will, not just the American varietyand the cinema of Italian neorealism, particularly the first films of Roberto Rossellini. I was between fifteen and seventeen years old at the time, and in those years I passed from the loving arms of my grandmother, who told me wonderfully suggestive fairy tales, to the bitter embrace of my father, who began to introduce me to life’s complexities and disappointments. The films of Rossellini mark this turning point for me. I remember leaving a screening of Paisan; there were only seven or eight of us in the audience, although the cinemas were always packed when they showed popular American movies like I’ll Be Yours or The Man I Love. I went to see Paisan probably because I had already seen all the other movies around. And strangely enough, this picture made me realize that it was time to tear myself way from my grandmothers bosom. Leaving the movie theater after Paisan, I continued to experience the strong emotions I had felt while watching this film, because it was life that I had seen up on the screen – not movie formulas. And the cinema began to fascinate me, the idea of making films from a unique perspective but always in collaboration with others. Film, for me, is a way of being together with other people, both when I make films and when my films are in the company of their audience, the viewers. I loved Hollywood movies very much at the time, but if today my grandmother came back and wanted to take me on her knee and tell me the story of Little Red Riding Hood, I wouldn’t like it, of course. This is what we call becoming an adult viewer.

Cineaste: I guess television didn’t enter into the picture for you in the late 1940s.

Olmi: No, not at all: I was too young and the medium was too young. But I do think that if people today would turn off their own television sets, film could still hold great value for them. In fact, if it weren’t for the cinema, contemporary society would be very disorganized. The cinema is a kind of comfort, especially when its a false mirror like that of Snow Whites grandmother. We want the cinema, that representation of ourselves which somehow says we are all fine and good, even when it presents the negative aspects of life. We are saved, you could say, by this filmic mirror that continually deceives us; we are its ultimate beneficiaries, we as a society, as a people, as individual human beings. As far as I am concerned, however, I could live without cinema if they took it away from me. But I couldn’t live without my wife, my children, my friendswithout people, especially those near and dear to me. This may seem like an infantile choiceyour family or the flicks! (as you Americans like to call the movies) – but its worth keeping in mind in an era where much writing about film, and many movies themselves, seem to have less and less to do with human life as most of us experience it from day to day.

Cineaste: Well, there are a lot of businessmen who would disagree with your choice of family and friends over the cinema.

Olmi: Naturally. Since ours is a society – a global or international one at this pointthat strains to achieve certain objectives, among which profit towers above all others, it’s obvious that the cinema as a mass medium, as a means of popular communication, is strongly and even intensely utilized to such an end: the attainment of profit, which need not be of the exclusively monetary kind. It could be ideological “profit as well. Whole economies themselves initiate their own strategies for profit, by means of which the masses, within a grand design constructed by just a few, fall into a financial trap. But there comes a time when the economy revolts and turns against not only its protagonists, the industrial giants, but also against the workers themselves. Then there must be some kind of reckoning, some taking into account, if not a revolt itself, and this must involve everyone, including the “organizers of profit. So it is with the cinema. At the beginning, when the audience saw a train on the screen rushing towards them, they hid under their seats; they were afraid, given films power of visualization. Today, to give only an inkling of what has happened since, you have to stab a man in the stomach nine times to get the same effect. And everyone is paying a very high price, figuratively as well as literally, for this kind of exploitation. But I think that any event – social, political, economic, or artisticproduces certain negative effects that were meant to be produced by betraying certain ideas or principles. The only question is how long it will take for a revolt on the part of those who produce as well as those who consume such cinema. I am not an optimist at all costs, but I do believe in the will to survive of life itself, and that when we have come to the end of our cunning and cleverness to trick the good earth, and with it Saint Cinema, into producing more and more, the both of them will rebel against us. Film art – cinematographic suggestion, if you likewill refuse at a certain point to participate in its own corruption and even prostitution. This is not just a discussion involving the cinema, however, as I have tried to make clear, because the cinema is only one element in the general economic noise that surrounds us.

Cineaste: It is certainly true today that many an auteur – one who has the talent to make quality filmsis strongly influenced by an anxiety for commercial success.

Olmi: Yes. For example, if their film doesn’t make millions more than another movie released at the same time, lots of directors feel inferior and even disconsolateso much are they influenced by this logic of exaggerated profit. But the moment will come when we become so pained by the economic and artistic choices we have made that we will go back to looking at ourselves in the mirror, to looking into each other’s eyes sincerely, and finding there the reality we have sacrificed to the bitch-goddess of capitalistic success.

Ermanno Olmi | Italian director |  biography


Overview for Ermanno Olmi -  biography and profile page


Ermanno Olmi - Director - Films as Director:, Other Films ...  P. Adams Sitney from Film Reference


Milano Film Festival  The Complete Olmi, introductory biography and filmography, 2009 Fest


Ermanno Olmi - Art Director, Cinematographer, Co-Producer ...   bio and filmography from Variety


Ermanno Olmi: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article  brief bio


Ermanno Olmi - Overview - MSN Movies  profile page


Ermanno Olmi  bio from World Lingo


Ermanno Olmi  profile page from NNDB


MISSING DIRECTOR'S CHECKLIST SERIES - Volume #4 - The Films of ...   complete filmography


Italian Directors - Ermanno Olmi  various Olmi films for purchase, with brief descriptions


Olmi, Ermanno - Facets  more films for purchase


From Banal to Beautiful: Ermanno Olmi’s Modernist Cinema – Nussberg Film Analysis  Excellent analysis of his work (2011?) (Undated)


at the walter reade theater: salt of the earth: the cinema of ...   The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi, restrespective intro and films, March 21 – April 12, 2001


Architecture as Social Commentary: The Absurdities of Il Posto - Bright ...  Megan Ratner from Bright Lights Film Journal, January 31, 2004


Olmi, Ermanno   Gerald Peary from The Boston Phoenix, August 2004                         


Olmi wins lifetime award at Venice film festival - Entertainment ...  English SINA, September 6, 2008


Moving Pictures: Work in All its Nobility and Drudgery: The Films ...  Justin DeFreitas, September 24, 2009


Life's Work: The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi - BAM/PFA - Film Programs  Life’s Work:  The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi, by Jason Sanders from BAMPFA, September 25 – October 30, 2009


KONANGAL: 11th Oct 2009; Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto   Olmi biography and Il Posto review, from Konangal, October 7, 2009


Problems of Classification: A Few Traits in Four Films by Ermanno Olmi  Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally published May 2012


MoMA | Tag: Ermanno Olmi  Charles Silver, September 24, 2013


Ermanno Olmi | ARTnews  Moving a Montegna, by Nicholas Fox Weber from Art News, September 23, 2014


Five reasons to watch The Tree of Wooden Clogs – Ermanno Olmi's ...  David Parkinson from BFI Screen Online, July 6, 2017


TSPDT - Ermanno Olmi  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


Film makers on film: Mike Leigh - Telegraph  Mark Monahan talks to director Mike Leigh about Tree of Wooden Clogs, from The Telegraph, October 19, 2002


Cineuropa - Interviews - Ermanno Olmi  Luciana Castellina interview from Cineuropa, November 27, 2002


Reflecting Reality. ERMANNO OLMI - Documents  Reflecting Reality--and Mystery: An Interview with Ermanno Olmi, Bert Cardullo interviews Olmi in English language from Cineaste magazine, August 2008


501 Movie Directors: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest Filmmakers


Ermanno Olmi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Image results for Ermanno Olmi


TRE FILI FINO A MILANO (short)           B                     89

Italy  (18 mi)  1958 

ICE ON THE DAM (short)                         A-                    94

Italy  1958


superb documentaries well worth seeing


Chicago Reader (Ted Shen) capsule review

Italian director Ermanno Olmi's valentine to his adopted city of Milan (1983, 62 min.) begins with a long scene of a Verdi opera being performed for the elite at La Scala, then moves into the streets where a maintenance crew is readying the piazza for a new day, right before Christmas. What follows is a series of impressionistic montages—snapshots of ordinary people, young and old; personal ads being read in a cacophony of voice-overs—that evokes the loneliness and impersonality of a metropolis teeming with alienated workers. Some of the sequences get tedious, but Olmi has deftly edited in time with his selections of opera, jazz, and pop. Also on the program is Tre fili fino a Milano (1958, 18 min.), one of the many documentaries Olmi made in the 50s while employed by the electric company Edison Volta. It's a simple visual poem that celebrates the hard work and joy of a crew putting up cables and electrical towers in the mountains. Both films are in Italian with subtitles.

TIME STOOD STILL  (Il tempo si è fermato)                A-                    93

Italy  (83 mi)  1958  ‘Scope


documentary (Ice On the Dam) turned into feature story, nice pacing, interesting humor and use of music, striking imagery

User comments  from imdb Author: Gerald A. DeLuca ( from United States

IL TEMPO SI E' FERMATO (TIME STOOD STILL) is a sensitive little story and Olmi's first feature film. It is set in a mountain hydroelectric station in wintertime. A young man assigned to work there gets to know and appreciate the older caretaker whose ways are so different from his own. The film is very visual and has hardly any dialog. It achieves, as do so many of Ermanno Olmi's later films like IL POSTO, THE FIANCES, THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS, and CAMMINA CAMMINA a sense of "mystical humanity", whereby mundane events reverberate with a kind of luminous dignity.

User comments  from imdb Author: ( from New York, NY

A little known masterpiece and Olmi's first feature, the film takes place in the snowy mountains of northern Italy, where a tough old-timer of a guard and a fresh-faced young student keep watch over the construction site of a partially built dam during the winter. Forced to live at close quarters in a tiny workers' shed and cut off from the world below with little to do, the ill-matched couple are at first taciturn and mutually suspicious. When a sudden snow storm cuts their power supply and threatens to demolish their rickety wooden hut, they find themselves thrown together in a fight for survival. Shot in wide-screen black and white, with hilarious visual gags and spare but amusing dialogue, the film develops into a moving testament to the common humanity bridging the generations.

IL POSTO                                                     A                     96

aka:  The Sound of Trumpets

Italy  (93 mi)  1961


As in all Olmi films, filled with a gentle humanism, similar to Kurosawa's IKIRU, deeply felt, unsentimental, beautifully told story about a young man's search for a steady job, the attention to detail is fabulous


Il Posto   Mike D’Angelo from Time Out New York


Shot in the very office building where he'd toiled before breaking into the movies, Olmi's low-key comedy of mauvais travail (the film's title translates as The Job, though it was originally released in the U.S. as The Sound of Trumpets) explores corporate ennui with a potent combination of gentle humor and pointed satire. Imagine a neorealist version of Office Space (or, for those few who've seen it, Chris Smith's American Job) and you'll apprehend Olmi's acute vision of a dead-end livelihood.


Il Posto, directed by Ermanno Olmi | Film review - Time Out

 Olmi's modern classic, his second feature, has a hero of Keatonesque ingenuousness - a Candide loosed on the big city (Milan), and surviving in spite of the roaring alienation and enclaves of privilege apparently designed to defeat him. Olmi keeps the scenario firmly anchored in a humane realism, and builds a comedy of feeling based upon the implicit observation of the minutest detail, the subtle shifts of emotion on the human face, the shared memories of adolescent embarrassment. If exercises in applied sadism like 10 pall, go and see a genuine master extract as much sexual charge from the sharing of a coffee spoon, and then real humour from the problem of how to dispose of the cups. A delight, no less acute for being gentle.

Film at 11  Adam

The unassuming grace of Ermanno Olmi’s early ‘60s feature, Il Posto (The Job), becomes even more apparent in the era of high concepts, expensive stars, and special effects. Employing amateurs and real citizens as extras, as well as filming in only actual locations, Olmi was able to elicit natural (not naturalistic) performances and involve the viewer in everyday life and struggles. If this concept seems slight or dull, especially when used to highlight a young man’s entry into a Kafkaesque office workforce, it is Olmi’s use of space and editing that imbues realism with the substance of art.

Il Posto is unabashedly autobiographical but strongly universal. It tells the story of Domenico (Sandro Panseri), a soulfully sad Italian youth from the suburbs applying for a big city career. He is subjected to simple psychological, physical, and mathematical exams, yet is degraded by literally competing beside a host of applicants of varying ages and expressions. The only saving grace is the presence of pretty Antonietta (Loredana Detto), the only other applicant of Domenico’s age group. She’s bright and assured where he’s uncertain and reticent. Olmi counterpoints their quietly budding relationship with the cul-de-sac existence of the office workers. While the employees have been hammered over the years into finding the office building as their primary place of life and existence, Domenico sees Antonietta as a new opportunity brought by the job. When they are separated by differing departments, Domenico, now an assistant mail worker, still tries to find chances to meet her. A New Year’s office party proves fruitless in his quest to make more of their relationship, but he still finds fun and excitement, however minor and short-lived, among his fellow drones. A clerk dies soon after, and Domenico obtains this position, providing an ambiguous end to the film and beginning to his office life.

Olmi’s strengths as a filmmaker lie in realism, performance, and sympathy. A true humanist, he finds the strengths and weaknesses of his characters as facets in the same raw gem. His cuts between the faces of Domenico and Antonietta, greatly enhanced by the unpolished beauty of Panseri and Detto, reveal more about their personalities than any number of pages of dialogue ever could. The darting of eyes, the pursing of is these facial tics that show the true nature of human beings, and Olmi captures them without force or urgency. But the director is not simply about close-ups; he also frames the crowded applicants like cattle in a pen, or a lone clerk engulfed by spacious, labyrinthine hallways. For all of the inherent social and economic commentary, there is much more importance weighted on people, relationships, and community. This is where Ermanno Olmi’s true allegiance and interests lie, not with observations only on the sordid state of the postwar world, but in the simple, uncertain, yet undeniably dramatic lives of everyday citizens.

Minority View: Il Posto by Ermanno Olmi |

Ermano Olmi is a filmmaker who remained true to the tenets of neo-realism (as defined by their ideologue Zavattini) long after the more celebrated adherents to the creed - Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti had abandoned it. Rossellini went on to make films like The Rise of Louis XIV (1966), De Sica to make social comedies like Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Visconti into operatic excesses like The Damned (1969). Neo-realism had set out to portray the lives of ordinary people - even when devoid of drama - but the best-known works of the movement are often highly dramatic in their choice of subject matter. Olmi came a little latter and first received recognition for Il Posto (1961), a film that shows his ‘˜documentary' methods exceedingly well. Olmi is intent on capturing a way of life with all its nuances and this is perhaps better facilitated by subject matter that is not inherently dramatic - perhaps because high drama has the tendency to overwhelm and obscure the smaller emotions.

Il Posto is about young Domenico Cantoni, living with his family in a village close to Milan, who tries to find work in the city, finds it and enters the corporate hierarchy as a messenger, to be promoted to clerk in quick time. Domenico meets a pretty girl named Antoinetta Masseti, becomes friendly with her for a brief while until the physical distance between the two (within the same office) undoes the relationship. The high point of the film is a New Year party for company employees that Domenico attends and that Antoinetta, unexpectedly, does not.

One is tempted, while describing something as ‘˜insubstantial' as Il Posto to word one's description in dramatic language. IMDB, for instance describes the film as being about ‘˜a young man's initiation into adulthood,' which makes it sound like a tale of seduction by an older woman! The problem, I think, is that we expect ‘˜high art' to have implications that will transformational and the sensations of a young man's first few weeks in a company office simply do not carry enough weight.

To describe the best moments in the film - and there are several wonderful moments - Domenico attends a New Year party just after he has joined the company as a messenger. Antoinetta has told him that she will be there and Domenico is anxious to spend an evening with her. Domenico arrives a half hour too early and has therefore to spend several excruciating minutes at a table alone, with a bottle of champagne in front of him. His acute discomfort is being noticed although the others are too kind to look upon him as a figure of fun. Antoinetta does not show up and we never see her again because our attention has now been drawn to the next great moment in Domenico's life - when he will become a privileged clerk instead of a mere messenger. There is high drama in this moment because a myopic clerk has just passed away. The clerk was engaged - after office hours - in remaining at his desk and working on a novel. The clerk's novel is incomplete but his papers have to be sorted out - into personal and official - before another person occupies his chair. Another irony is that the people in the room are all clerks but there is an implicit hierarchy in the way the desks are arranged. The senior-most clerks sit closest to the accountant and the fact that a desk half way to the accountant is occupied by a junior like Domenico can cause much resentment among the others.

The purpose of great cinema is not always to disturb us or offer prognoses about the state of the world. There is a more modest kind of cinema that is simply preoccupied recreating sensations for us - sensations that in our everyday anxieties we have ignored or simply forgotten. The major emotions (our triumphs and tragedies) are the ones we choose to retain perhaps because they justify us in a way that the small sensations do not. Few of us remember (or care to remember) the discomforts in our earliest triumphs, the small embarrassments we pushed under the carpet and the joys too slight to be even admitted to ourselves.

If Il Posto is not about the ‘˜dehumanizing effect of the large corporation' (we don't see Domenico becoming ‘˜inhuman'), if you don't want to scream at him, ‘˜get out while you can,' (the emotions of another IMDB critic), where does the value of Il Posto reside? Its value rests, I suggest, in bringing alive to us - in all their vividness - the moments in our own lives that we misplaced because the emotions they generated were too fleeting, too fragile to be retained. In providing a dispassionate but acutely perceptive look at urban life and its ironies, the film touches upon sensations that realist cinema has rarely acknowledged.

Il Posto: Handcrafted Cinema  Criterion essay by Kent Jones


Il Posto (1961) - The Criterion Collection


The Film Sufi: "Il Posto" - Ermanno Olmi (1961)


Architecture as Social Commentary: The Absurdities of Il Posto - Bright ...  Megan Ratner from Bright Lights Film Journal, January 31, 2004


Problems of Classification: A Few Traits in Four Films by Ermanno Olmi  Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally published May 2012


Shooting Down Pictures » Blog Archive » 937. Il Posto / The Job ...    Kevin B. Lee from Also Life Like         


not coming to a theater near you (Matt Bailey) review  


Criterion Reflections [David Blakeslee] [Jamie S. Rich]


Human Resources | Village Voice  Dennis Lim, December 17, 2002


Il Posto / I Fidanzati (1961/1962) | PopMatters  David Sanjek


Il Posto (1961) -  Sean Axmaker


Il Posto (1961) - Home Video Reviews -  Brian Cady 


KONANGAL: 11th Oct 2009; Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto   Olmi biography and Il Posto review, from Konangal, October 7, 2009             


The History of Cinema. Ermanno Olmi: biography, reviews, links  Piero Scaruffi review for Il Posto is in English


The Digital Fix [Anthony Nield]


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  Criterion Collection


The DVD Journal  Kim Morgan, Criterion Collection


DVD Talk (Matthew Millheiser) dvd review [4/5] [Criterion Collection]


DVD Verdict (Barrie Maxwell) dvd review [Criterion Collection] (Jon Danziger) dvd review  Criterion Collection


Il Posto  Peter Nellhaus from Coffee Coffee and More Coffee 


Dr. Bertier’s Diagnosis


sixmartinis and the seventh art  Shahn reviews the architecture in IL POSTO, August 20, 2007 (Chris Dashiell) review (Christopher Null) review [3.5/5]


User comments  from imdb Author: Asa_Nisi_Masa2 from Rome, Italy


User comments  from imdb Author: jotix100 from New York


The Aspect Ratio  Best Films of the 60’s by Ari, Brian, and Pete - Ermanno Olmi - 2003 - Il Posto (1961)/I ...  Keith Uhlrich reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI


PopMatters  David Sanjek reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI


DVD Review - Ermanno Olmi's "Il Posto" and "I Fidanzati"  Jürgen Fauth reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze


Shooting Down Pictures #937: Il Posto - Intro  on YouTube (6:51)


THE FIANCÉS (I Fidanzati)                                  A                     95

Italy  (77 mi) 1963


another tender portrait with acute attention to small details, deeply felt humanism


THE FIANCÉS (Ermanno Olmi, 1962) « Dennis Grunes

One of the most remarkable films ever made about the Italian working class, Ermanno Olmi’s The Fiancés (I fidanzati) is also a love story of sorts. More particularly, it’s about the strain placed on an engaged couple by their separation once the man, Giovanni, relocates from Milan, where he works as a welder in a petrochemical factory, to his new job, at the company’s new plant, in Sicily. Giovanni is taking his and Liliana’s future with him, as it were, for the better pay and greater opportunities for career advancement that, theoretically at least, will also advance the date of their marriage and help strengthen their financial foundation. Things do not work out that way, however; there’s no coming together of north and south. In reality, and with great feeling and brilliant black-and-white imagery, Olmi clarifies the extent to which work dictates the course of working-class lives. Including love, it seems. The Fiancés is a devastating film.

The opening movement consists of two parts. The setting is industrial Milan in the ravishing dark of night: the time for those who are hard at work during the day to squeeze in some social life. Specifically, a club-dance hall is being readied for the evening’s working-class patrons. People file in; in the dark, patrons are already sitting, waiting; the floor is sprinkled with (I’m guessing) rosin; the musicians take their places and ready their instruments. Usually in a film such preparations are taken for granted; they aren’t shown. But as this is a film specifically about workers, Olmi is reminding us that these people also are laborers, part of the same working-class community. This “silent” overture—there is no dialogue—is as engrossing as it is affectionate, and it establishes the film’s participation in the Italian neorealist tradition bringing documentary realism to fiction. Its last two features find the lights at last coming on and the floor coming to life with couples.

The second part of the opening is more complex. Giovanni and Liliana are one of the couples in the hall. They are seated at a small table, but they aren’t facing one another; there’s tension between them. “Well?” Giovanni asks, inviting Liliana to dance in an anything-but-romantic or even cordial way. Liliana, upset, will not dance with Giovanni, who eventually leaves her to ask someone else across the hall. Before the two do end up dancing together, around and around and around almost mechanically, Liliana will rise to the bait of Giovanni’s desertion by also dancing with someone else, playing tit for tat. Spliced into all this are scenes at the factory, from earlier in the day, that explain the source of Liliana’s unhappiness. In bits and pieces we see Giovanni’s being offered the new job and accepting, which will mean his moving to Sicily, leaving behind, in Milan, Liliana as well as his father. (The “new job”—to me, it seems a ruse: something expediently offered that won’t, finally, accrue to Giovanni’s benefit—is as part of the team constructing the new plant.) We see Giovanni tell his bosses that he isn’t married—the truth, but also a bit of a lie, since he is engaged to be married and hence not as “free” to move as he pretends. Indeed, we also see him arrange for his 70-year-old father, who has been living with him, to be put into a group “home” in his absence. Giovanni is all that assuages Liliana’s loneliness in life, and it will take time before they can reunite. It’s a company promotion for Giovanni; it almost seems like a death sentence for Liliana. Giovanni’s flight to Sicily occurs the next day.

The editing is the key. The shafts of workday “explanation” penetrating the nighttime social scene between Giovanni and Liliana is visual irony, since it’s the edited-in bits—work—that controls the social, private life of the engaged couple (and Giovanni’s father’s current situation), not vice versa. Moreover, the compound suggests the fragmentation of their lives that their work-enforced separation will impose. What a marvelous example of form expressing thematic content.

Giovanni’s plane takes off in daylight and lands in Sicily at night; Giovanni has probably never flown in an airplane before. While the work site is spectacular, Giovanni must first contend with unpleasant hotel accommodations—the cramped space of his room, the sterile corridor, and the almost desolate nature of the restaurant downstairs, especially when compared to the Milanese dance hall. (When Giovanni is finally settled in his own apartment, the effect is no different, and Olmi stresses the exploitation of imported workers from another angle: the ridiculously expensive nature of the tiny, threadbare accommodations available to them.) Thus begins Giovanni’s terribly lonely stay in Sicily—on a realistic level, the separation from all that’s familiar to him, including Milan, Liliana, his father, his co-workers; metaphorically, an encapsulation of his welding work itself, but for the first time unmitigated in its alienating quality by any family or social life away from work. We, at least, are compelled by what we see to address the nature of Giovanni’s workday life apart from the normal context of the rest of his life that makes his labor bearable. By extension, we are moved to reflect on hard or monotonous labor in a more general sense, to consider the plight of workers from two opposite ends: what might reduce the alienating nature of their labor (for instance, reduced work hours, alternating work days, and vacations); the level of compensation and benefits that’s appropriate given the sacrifices that workers must make and the torture, or near torture, that they must endure. This is a far more subtle because indirect, more original and complex, though no less powerful, description of the alienating nature of labor than Jean-Luc Godard would present in both British Sounds (released in the U.S. as See You at Mao) and Pravda (both 1969), in one of which a slow tracking shot through a factory discloses different persons engaged in monotonous, and monotonously similar, work, and in the other of which the same idea is conveyed by a fixed camera showing a single soul engaged in grindingly repetitive work.

In this regard, something must be said about the single most celebrated image in The Fiancés—one of the most fantastically beautiful shots in all of cinema: like Roman candles or a herd of shooting stars against the dark sky, showers of sparks falling from the worksite. For me, the image is sorely ironic. The beauty is something that we see while the workers who are inadvertently creating it do not. While the workers are in the scene, hence in no position even to notice the spectacle, we have the benefit of Olmi’s long-shot. There’s another such image in the film, of mounds of salt. Olmi doesn’t show us the labor that went into raking these up; he shows us the outcome. What we see is eerily lovely, but because of the context that this film provides we find irony here also, on two fronts. One, the visual beauty is for us, but the workers who inadvertently and laboriously created it are exempt from the pleasure we find in the sight; for them, the mounds of salt encapsulate the backbreaking nature of their labor. In addition, these rows of salt mounds on a stretch of almost depressingly flat land perfectly project the loneliness, isolation, dehumanization and disconnection from all that’s familiar to them that Giovanni and other workers there must feel. Again, Olmi’s distancing strategy sets our minds on an analytical course.

Giovanni’s off-work wanderings through a bleak landscape, especially given the theme of alienation, reveal the influence of Michelangelo Antonioni. This foot travel is also another example of Olmi’s distancing, thought-provoking use of irony. On one level, it’s simply the case that, disconnected from Milan and all that’s familiar to him, Giovanni in these new surroundings has no place to go. Hence, he drifts; he wanders. However, the irony lies elsewhere; for again we see this fish out of water in a way that describes and defines the “water” he is normally in. Whether in Milan or down south, Giovanni is “going nowhere.” In Milan, his social and familial entanglements may have obscured this from our view; in Sicily, where Giovanni is on his own, we confront this in the visual metaphor for it that Olmi has conjured. We may infer in this instance that what we see is correlative to what Giovanni himself may be feeling, now that caring for his father and looking forward to marrying Liliana no longer distract his capacity for reflection.

Needless to say, the relationship between Giovanni and Liliana takes a terrible beating. Letters unanswered, the separation itself, the wayward thoughts that seize the agitated imagination: all these help to make Liliana feel that she is “losing” Giovanni. It should be noted, too, that Giovanni succumbs to his loneliness to the detriment of his bond with his fiancée. Absence makes the heart grow fickle—or, by way of compensation in Liliana’s case, fearful and desperate. Again, the context that Olmi’s film provides takes these events out of the realm of moralistic or primarily psychological consideration; again, what we see in these two individual lives, and in their relationship, is the extent to which Giovanni’s work determines their rocky course. To be sure, in the imagined face-to-face encounters that accompany their eventual stream of back-and-forth letters, Liliana imputes to their separation a greater closeness between the two; but in the context of the film’s use of irony, this matches Giovanni’s guilty wishfulness and Liliana’s unhappiness, suggested here by her too great insistence on unmitigated joy. It’s decisive to my reading of the film that the two end in this fantasy domain; they never really reunite. Liliana’s worry that Giovanni would “disappear” has materialized.

There’s another way to approach The Fiancés, and I at least must make note of it. This film is very much a companion-piece to Olmi’s previous and more famous film, Il posto (The Job—released in the U.S. as The Sound of Trumpets, 1961), about a suburban boy’s first work experiences—finally, a desk job in a large corporation in the city, in a room of rows of similarly occupied desks—following high school graduation. Domenico’s “job” implies both his reduction and imprisonment. At first, The Fiancés almost seems like a continuation of Il posto, which ends in a dance hall much as The Fiancés begins in one. However, surrealistic elements, befitting Domenico’s still adventurous young mind, make Il posto a different kind of film than The Fiancés. In retrospect, the one-year-later film implies the numbing of the human mind that Giovanni’s years of labor have induced.

Olmi wrote and directed The Fiancés, and Lamberto Caimi cinematographed—though not so gorgeously as the foolishly enhanced DVD suggests. Carlo Cabrini is faultless as Giovanni. However, in her richer role as Liliana, Anna Canzi is even better. It is absolutely necessary for Olmi’s intentions that, for all her anxiety, lack of self-confidence regarding her relationship with Giovanni, and pleadings, Liliana must not seem to be a nag, even in the slightest degree; if she had seemed a nag, the viewer’s attention might shift from the socioeconomic and political realm, where Olmi wishes to keep it, to the moralistic and primarily psychological. Tall order; yet Canzi, while projecting Liliana’s feelings to the full, somehow avoids all the lurking pitfalls that might have wobbled Olmi’s intent. She is superb.

The Fiancés won the Catholic Film Office Award (OCIC) at Cannes. And, of course, it ought to have won the prize, as its humanity is unassailable.

More than fifteen years later, Olmi would find art-house success with the peasant epic Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978), which I once slandered and dismissed with this too-clever summation: “De Sica, and ye shall find.” My appreciation of Olmi’s Tree, to say the least, has grown over the years. Nevertheless, The Fiancés is trimmer (a mere 77 minutes), tauter, and fuller besides; The Tree of Wooden Clogs, more diffuse. The Fiancés is a masterpiece.

I fidanzati: Rhapsody in the Rain  Criterion essay by Kent Jones, June 23, 2003 


Under the Influence: Mike Mills on Ermanno Olmi   Video, December 22, 2016 (5:11)


I fidanzati (1962) - The Criterion Collection


The Film Sufi: "The Fiances" - Ermanno Olmi (1963)


Problems of Classification: A Few Traits in Four Films by Ermanno Olmi  Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally published May 2012


Only The Cinema [Ed Howard]


Criterion Reflections [David Blakeslee] [Jamie S. Rich]


Il Posto / I Fidanzati (1961/1962) | PopMatters  David Sanjek


I Fidanzati Read TCM's Home Video Review on this film  Brian Cady, Criterion Collection


DVD Verdict - Criterion Collection  Bill Gibron 


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  Criterion Collection (Mark Zimmer) dvd review  Criterion Collection


DVD Journal  D.K. Holm, Criterion Collection  Fernando F. Croce 


DVD Review - Ermanno Olmi's "Il Posto" and "I Fidanzati"  Jürgen Fauth reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review - Review [Gary W. Tooze]


ERMANNO OLMI - DANCING 1 (da I FIDANZATI)  on YouTube (5:10)






I FIDANZATI, 1962...I  (5:53)


A MAN NAMED JOHN (E venne un uomo)

aka:  There Came a Man

Italy  (90 mi)  1965


Time Out review  Tom Milne

Not so much a biography of Angelo Roncalli as an attempt to evoke the aura of his life and the paths that led to his becoming the much-loved Pope John XXIII, Olmi's film uses Rod Steiger as a 'mediator'. Steiger, in other words, lends his presence as commentator, occasionally stands in for the Pope, gazes benignly at the small boy who represents the pontiff as a small boy. With Steiger reflecting a sort of conventional awe, it is perhaps small surprise that what emerges from this jigsaw portrait is pretty much a pious homage. Olmi's quirkish hand and eye as a film-maker are really evident only in the early sequences, shot in delicate colours almost like fairytale illustrations, which conjure the quaintly rustic surroundings in which the future Pope grew up.

Chicago Reader (Fred Camper) capsule review

Ermanno Olmi uses the writings of Angelo Roncalli (1881-1963) to narrate episodes from his life, following him from early childhood to his investiture as Pope John XXIII, but this 1965 film gives little sense of why he became a major reformer. Much of what we learn is unsurprising: John admires the “simplicity” of Jesus's teachings, thinks the purpose of being a priest is to help the poor, and avoids looking at street posters “where indecency might be found.” As the main character, Rod Steiger is less an actor than a stand-in, hanging around Paris and Venice in a business suit and speaking English. The odd distancing devices don't really work—especially here, where Steiger's dialogue has been dubbed in Italian and translated back into English subtitles. 86 min.

LA COTTA (The Crush) – made for TV

Italy  (49 mi)  1967 

User comments  from imdb Author: Darren O'Shaughnessy (darren shan) from Limerick, Ireland

Fun, sweet featurette (49 minutes) about a 15 year old ("let's say 16") boy who likes to take an industrial approach to courting. His plan for making the most of time at a party is to draw up a list of all the boys, then ask each girl to pick the boy they want to make out with! But when a new girl enters his life, industry is forgotten and he finds himself dreaming romantically, especially in the lead-up to New Year's Eve. But, this being an Olmi movie, happiness isn't quite as straightforward as it seems ...

A worthy short film from one of Italy's best-kept directorial secrets. It was made for TV, but you'd never guess that from the quality on display. Definitely worth checking out.

“LA COTTA” (Ermanno Olmi, 1967) « Dennis Grunes

“I’d like to give you the first kiss again.”

Charming is the adjective most often applied to writer-director Ermanno Olmi’s 49-minute “The Crush”; however, I also find the film close to devastating. Perhaps it is the low, crestfallen voice that seemingly on-top-of-everything 15-year-old Andreà slips into when Jeanine, his girlfriend of ten days and presumed soul-mate, stands him up for their planned New Year’s Eve date. Andreà ends up spending the majority of his time with two individuals: a cab driver, who takes forever delivering him to the address of the party that Jeanine’s grandmother mistakenly believed that her granddaughter would be attending; the older sister of the girl throwing this Jeanineless party, who tries to get Andreà another cab and in the meantime ministers to his fragile ego—with kindness and honesty, not sex, although the dumped boy is suddenly smitten with her, too. We never learn this young woman’s name, but it hardly matters; we are assured that for Andreà there would be other crushes to come.     

This is a wonderfully exacting filmlet, originally made for Italian television, unified by a sharp theme: the reality of raw human feelings, but the unreality of much of the rest of reality due to the profound fog into which subjectivism—our interpretations, coping strategies, alternate in-the-moment imaginings and imperfect recollections later on—plunges it. Olmi’s opening description perfectly suits this elusive material: “A true story that could be a fairy tale.” Moreover, Olmi’s style creates a fluid blend of fiction and documentary, adolescent selfconsciousness (expressed briefly by amateur filmmaking-within-the-film) and naturalism.    

I wish I could give you the names of the marvelous (nonprofessional?) actors who play the bespectacled Andreà—he somewhat resembles Woody Allen—and the anonymous young woman; but I cannot locate a cast listing.*

* Marcella Di Palo Jost, bless her, found the information. The boy is played by Luciano Piergiovanni; the woman, by Giovanna Claudia Mongino.

THE SCAVENGERS (I recuperanti)

Italy  (101 mi)  1969


Time Out review  Tom Milne

A curiously exact echo of Olmi's first feature, Time Stood Still, with its quietly funny exploration of the relationship between two men, one young and one old, who have nothing in common but their work. High up in the mountains, amid past battlefields, they scavenge for old shells and hidden ammunition dumps, dreaming of the day of El Dorado when they will find the armoured car which supposedly lies buried somewhere, lost and forgotten. Shot in documentary style, with amateur actors and a minimum of plot, it may not sound too enticing; but one has to reckon with Olmi's extraordinary ability to make bricks without straw, and here he constructs an entire drama out of the conflict between two lifestyles. Deceptively simple, it speaks volumes about our rat-race civilisation in its vivid, quizzically funny way.

ONE FINE DAY (Un certo giorno)

Italy  (105 mi)  1965


New York Times [Vincent Canby] (registration req'd)

"ONE FINE DAY" everything goes sour for the self-assured, middle-aged director of a Milanese advertising agency that is controlled from Frankfurt. En route to make his most important presentation, a campaign for something called Job Dinner, designed to revolutionize Italian eating habits (and to numb the taste buds of anyone who cherishes Italian cooking) he sideswipes an old peasant on a highway. As the advertising executive awaits trial for manslaughter, his life, in all its carefully composed, beautiful aridity, flashes before his eyes, sometimes literally.

You may have heard this one before. If you haven't, it doesn't make much difference because Ermanno Olmi, the Italian director, makes sure you get the point, long before the ad man does. "One Fine Day" was shown at the New York Film Festival last night and will be repeated today at 6:30 P.M.

In his first two fiction features, Olmi, who began as a documentary filmmaker, remained at a sociologist's distance from his characters, whom he saw with a poet's eye. As the young clerk of "The Sound of Trumpets" (1961) slipped slowly into the great machine that is the new Italian industrial society, it was Olmi, not his protagonist, who expressed a rueful sadness. The director took a somewhat more personal view of the young couple in "The Fiances," but the film still was the sort of socially conscious cinema that by definition, peers down on its characters as it also surveys the surrounding landscape.

At the end of "One Fine Day," the advertising executive, who has won acquittal, says simply: "Now things will return to normal—as they were before." But he knows, as you and Olmi know, things can never quite be the same again. Although the new film is about people who are more aware of themselves than were the clerks and welders in the earlier films, Olmi is still very much in evidence directing our attention to the sadness and banality of it all.

Olmi often does this very skillfully, as when one of the ad man's superiors says of an employe who has suffered a heart attack: "According to our plans, he should have lasted longer."

Olmi's details are fine. You know the milieu immediately when you see a successful lady executive who wears fine furs and elaborate hairdos, and whose eyes are exhausted.

The performances also are first-rate, especially Brunette Del Vita, as the tired executive, and Lidia Fuortes, as the girl with whom he has a brief affair. Miss Fuortes looks about the way I'd imagine Anouke Aimée would if she had to work eight hours a day in an office—which isn't perfect but not at all bad.

Olmi, however, is a director who likes to compose individual images for beauty's sake. There seems to be much photographing of characters through glass, as well as a pan horizontally across exteriors and interiors to pick up people who are arbitrarily off-screen when the scenes begin. This is fancy filmmaking and it is finally as tiresome as the title is heavily ironic.

DURING THE SUMMER (Durante l'estate)

Italy  (105 mi)  1971


Time Out review  Tom Milne

The marvellously quaint and funny tale of a timid, unprepossessing little man - self-styled as The Professor - who busies himself with designing coats-of-arms, and presenting them to anyone who matches up to his private assessment of nobility. Recipients include an old man patiently waiting on a railway station for the son who doesn't turn up, a hall porter who brings a cup of coffee when he hurts his leg, a girl with whom he embarks on a sidelong little romance, and who proves that she deserves his accolade of 'Princess' when the law finally catches up and he is jailed for his 'malpractices'. Stunningly shot in colour, with a non-professional cast and very much the same wryly observant sense of humour as Il Posto, it has a touch of real Olmi magic to it.

Chicago Reader (J.R. Jones) capsule review

With films such as The Secret of Old Woods and The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Italian director Ermanno Olmi may be identified with people of the soil, but in this charming and rarely screened 1971 comedy he successfully transposes his profound humanity to a cast of literate urbanites. An aging academic (Renato Parracchi) earns a modest living as a cartographer and in his spare time pursues an interest in heraldry, persuading strangers that they're descended from nobles and selling them hand-drawn coats of arms. Lonely and idealistic, he visits a former student who's become a wealthy architect, but he's nauseated by the man's swinging friends and nightmarishly modern home. Closer to his heart is the drifting hippie (Rosanna Callegari) he befriends after a series of chance encounters on the street: “Perhaps you don't know it,” he tells her, “but you may be a princess.” Olmi's trust in the inherent nobility of common people would be cloying if it weren't so obviously sincere, and the film's closing shot is just bitter enough to qualify as Chaplinesque. In Italian with subtitles. 105 min.

The New York Times (Roger Greenspun) review


THE CIRCUMSTANCE (La circostanza)

Italy  (97 mi)  1973        US version (90 mi)


Time Out review

The bourgeois family Olmi observes here is caught in a process of disintegration that hardly requires the promptings of a languid summer's minor crisis. A motorcycle crash, a business reorganisation seminar and a childbirth represent the unlikely-seeming dramatic punctuation in Olmi's mosaic portrait of minimal domestic communication; while the director himself adopts an uncharacteristically elliptical structure and a rare stridency to capture both the frenetic tail-chasing and tentative adaptations to change which criss-cross the dead institutional centre. If the criticism is muted, it's because for Olmi, every new circumstance offers at least a new option.

Chicago Reader (Fred Camper) capsule review

In this 1973 portrait of a wealthy Milanese family, director Ermanno Olmi intercuts narrative fragments about each member, the disjunction between them conveying the characters' separation from one another. The patriarch is threatened by downsizing at his company, whose managers fear for their careers even as they chatter in business jargon, while his daughter resists but then succumbs to her boyfriend's advances. The members seem less a family than a group of casual friends, brought together only by shared crises. Olmi closely observes the details and rhythms of their daily life—which makes the storm that accompanies a childbirth seem highly artificial. In Italian with subtitles. 96 min.

The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review

THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS (L'albero degli zoccoli)              A                     99

Italy (186 mi) 1978


What an intensely personal film, if ever you question your own faith, whatever it may be, see this film, it's worth every accolade it ever received


The Chicago Reader: Dave Kehr

Ermanno Olmi's 185-minute study of peasant life in turn-of-the-century Italy (1978) is rich with incident but thin on ideas—less an advance over the standard film festival peasant epic than an unusually accomplished rendition of it. The characters and situations are oppressively familiar; Olmi's wide-eyed, wondering point of view helps to freshen them, but not enough to overcome completely the Marxist sentimentalism inherent in the concept. I found the film most successful when it left its tenant farm setting for a lovely, lyrical boat trip to the big city, the one moment of expansiveness in Olmi's otherwise hermetic narration. Still, the film is consistently engaging and suggestive, though it never explodes into the masterpiece it's clearly intended to be. In Italian with subtitles.

Time Out review

Olmi's uncompromising reconstruction of peasant life in turn-of-the-century Lombardy marks a return to his origins in neo-realism and non-professional casts. Choreographed as an ensemble work that admits no star performers, his film takes its unhurried pace from the lives of the dirt farmers it observes - lives of repetitive drudgery punctuated by cautious moments of felicity. Its gently muted colour camerawork succeeds in covering the exquisite landscape with a thin patina of mud, while for two of its three hours the changing of the seasons is the closest the film comes to a dramatic event. By showing peasant exploitation as neither triumphant Calvary nor action-packed drama, Olmi refutes both 1900 and Padre Padrone, and creates a near-perfect hermetic universe, punctured only in those rare moments when, as tautologous as the film's English title, he dots the 'i's on the amply demonstrated Marxist message. Still, a near faultless and major film.

User comments  from imdb Author: Gerald A. DeLuca ( from United States

If there were any reason for dropping out of normal life and dedicating oneself entirely to watching Italian films, this might be it! The majestic simplicity and dignity of this film make even the best contemporary films seem trivial and stillborn by comparison. Loved by sensitive audiences and critics alike, Ermanno Olmi's movie describes incidents in the lives of four families sharecropping in Lombardy at the coming of the twentieth century. Olmi's extraordinary command of imagery, movement, rhythm, and lighting conveys a potent nostalgia for Earth and the family of man. There is a scene in which images of a father carving clogs for his shoeless boy are intercut with the lives of the farm families. The music accompanying that scene is a Bach organ chorale. The effect is almost sacramental and entirely overwhelming and may be one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema. That scene alone is worth more than all the digitalized special effects, car crashes, ocean liner sinkings, and the deafening Dolby vapidity of so much of the inane junk embraced undiscriminatingly by so many. If they only had the eyes to see, ears to hear, and the soul to love this wondrous work of art!

The most authentic version on this film has the original Bergamasco dialect track. The newer DVDs from Italy have the option of choosing this soundtrack.

VideoVista review  Gary Couzens

Ermanno Olmi made his name with small-scale films such as 1961's Il Posto, about the life of a postal clerk. The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (aka: L'Albero degli zoccoli) is his best-known film; it won the Palme d'Or at the 1978 Cannes film festival. Olmi films have been infrequent since: the most recent to be distributed in the UK was 1988's impressive The Legend Of The Holy Drinker. He has only made two since then, The Profession Of Arms having a mixed reception at Cannes in 2001.

Olmi follows in the neo-realist tradition of realistic settings and un-showy camerawork, with non-professional actors. (Holy Drinker, which starred Rutger Hauer, is an exception.) The Tree Of Wooden Clogs, shot in 16mm and originally made for Italian television with a cast of local villagers, is a three-hour study of a year in the life of a Lombardy peasant community at the turn of the 20th century.

Olmi, a practising Catholic, sees a spiritual dimension to all this, often 'ennobling' the onscreen events by the use of Bach on the soundtrack. There's no plot as such and the village itself is the central character rather than anyone in it. There's a lot of incident and plenty to admire, but the film's length and steady pacing means that many will find this heavy going. Squeamish viewers should beware a goose being beheaded and a pig being killed and gutted, but these scenes are as much a part of village life as anything else.

Derek Malcolm's Century of Films: The Tree of Wooden Clogs  The Guardian, September 2, 1999

No other Italian film-maker of world stature has been as neglected as Ermanno Olmi, possibly because his quiet mastery is unfashionable but also because a serious illness has limited him in recent years. The last time he came into prominence was in 1978 when he won the Palme D'Or at Cannes with The Tree of Wooden Clogs.

Many think this three-hour epic about the lives of peasants in turn-of-the-century Bergamo is his masterwork. It may be, but other classics include Il Posto (The Job), Un Certo Giorno (One Fine Day) and La Circonstanza (The Circumstance). His films may not have the virtuosity of Fellini, Visconti, Pasolini and Bertolucci. But time will prove that they are of equal value.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs was taken from stories Olmi's grandmother told him. Using peasants from the area as actors, it was made with direct sound (very unusual in Italy). It was even spoken not in Italian but in Bergomesque. The film attempted not only an attack on an outmoded social system - the peasants have to beg land and the wherewithal for a basic education from the local landlord - but an almost mystical affirmation of the relationship of man to nature.

Olmi was a Catholic as well as a Marxist so the film isn't as angry, and is far more beautiful, than that other masterpiece of the same genre from Latin America, Nelson Pereira Dos Santos's Barren Lives.

Its strength lies not just in its ravishing depiction of the changing seasons in a stunning part of Lombardy nor in its human sympathies, which are never patronising to the ordinary people he finds so unordinary, but in its measured, cumulative approach to the hard life of those close to penury and exploited by the powerful. For instance, the tree of the title is cut down by a father to make a pair of clogs for his son to reach school. For which he pays a terrible price.

There are several other stunning sequences, such as when a secretive old man finally tells his granddaughter how he has managed to grow his tomato crop so early each year that he can be the first to sell in the market. Even better is the honeymoon trip on an old barge to Milan. This is a documentary that isn't a documentary, perhaps a trifle nostalgic for times past but never averse to pointing out the viciousness of the old system and the bleak fight that has to be fought against the natural world.

Olmi's other films are very different, though inhabiting the same humanist space. The Job has a young man triumphantly finding a clerking job but thereby condemned to drudgery for the rest of his life. One Fine Day is about a middle-aged businessman who causes an accident in which a farmworker dies, which forces him to re-examine his whole empty life. "Work," said Olmi, "is not a damnation for man. It is his chance to express himself. But work as it is organised by society often becomes a condemnation. It annuls man. We are conditioned, but we are also guilty of letting it happen."

His precise and tactful films never over-dramatise. They seem to exist naturally, setting his characters against an equally authentic background so that you forget the skill with which they are made. It is good to know that many of the best of present day Italian film-makers regard his work as a model.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs: The Sacredness of Life as Understatement   Criterion essay by Deborah Young, February 13, 2017


Ermanno Olmi on the Whisper of the Generations   Video, February 16, 2017 (2:42)


The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) - The Criterion Collection


The Tree of Wooden Clogs archive review: a picture of man and God ...  John Pym from BFI Sight and Sound, originally published in 1979


Problems of Classification: A Few Traits in Four Films by Ermanno Olmi  Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally published May 2012


Decent Films Guide (Steven D. Greydanus) review [A]  also one of 15 films listed in the category "Values" on the Vatican film list


Reverse Shot: Kristi Mitsuda   August 09, 2010


'The Tree of Wooden Clogs' Is Extraordinary in Its ... - PopMatters  Sarah Boslaugh, March 7, 2017     


MUBI's Notebook: Duncan Gray   November 17, 2012


150 Movies that make you think [Jugu Abraham]


L'Albero Degli Zoccoli - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications  Elaine Mancini from Film Reference


Five reasons to watch The Tree of Wooden Clogs – Ermanno Olmi's ...  David Parkinson from BFI Screen Online, July 6, 2017


Scott Reviews Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs [Criterion ...  Scott Nye from Criterion Cast


Criterion Blu-ray review: Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs ...  Kenneth George Godwin from Cagey Films


Blu-ray Review: THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS, Far From a ...  Jim Tudor from Screen Anarchy


The Village Voice: Bilge Ebiri   December 16, 2016


The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)  Glenn Heath Jr. from Little White Lies


THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS (Ermanno Olmi, 1978) | Dennis ...  Dennis Grunes


Ermanno Olmi: The Tree of Wooden Clogs – The Mookse and the Gripes


Flashback: The Tree of Wooden Clogs – Ermanno Olmi's 1978 tale of ...  Richard James Havis from Post magazine, April 8, 2017


DVD Savant Review: The Tree of Wooden Clogs - DVD Talk  Glenn Erickson, also seen here:  The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) - Home Video Reviews -


DVD Talk (Matt Langdon) dvd review [3/5]


DVD Verdict (Bill Treadway) dvd review


The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)  Michael DVD


The Tree of Wooden Clogs Blu-ray -


The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of the Blu-ray  Neil Lumbard


The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Blu-ray) > DVD Verdict: A Class Action ...  Gordon Sullivan


The Tree of Wooden Clogs | Blu-ray Review | Slant Magazine  Clayton Dillard


Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]


Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4.5/5]


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


Spirituality & Practice (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat) review


I Shoot The Pictures: The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (1978), Recommended ...   Michael Troutman


AvaxHome -> Ermanno Olmi-L'Albero degli zoccoli (1978)  brief comments, also photos attached


Tree of Wooden Clogs, 1978 - Top 10 Cannes Film Festival Movies - TIME  Richard Corliss (capsule review)


Letterboxd: Mike D'Angelo


TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4.5/5]


The Tree of Wooden Clogs review – Olmi's neorealist masterpiece ...  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, July 7, 2017


Philip French's DVD club: No 93: The Tree of Wooden Clogs | Film ...  Philip French from The Guardian, November 18, 2007


Film makers on film: Mike Leigh - Telegraph  Mark Monahan talks to director Mike Leigh about Tree of Wooden Clogs, from The Telegraph, October 19, 2002


Cleveland Press (Tony Mastroianni) review


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]


The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review [Gary W. Tooze]


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gregory Meshman


The Tree of Wooden Clogs Blu-ray - Luigi Ornaghi - DVD Beaver


The Tree of Wooden Clogs - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Image results for The tree of wooden clogs


KEEP WALKING (Cammina, Cammina)

Italy (171 mi)  1983                   international version (155 mi) 


Time Out review

Directed, produced, written, photographed and edited all by Ermanno Olmi, this vast film follows the ramblings of a ragged caravan across an Africa that looks suspiciously like Lower Tuscany. After a deal of time it becomes apparent that these are the Magi, following yonder star, while clad in ethnic sacking. Olmi treats the whole escapade with a delightful irreverence, which apparently has not amused the Vatican.  

User comments  from imdb Author: Gerald A. DeLuca ( from United States

In CAMMINA CAMMINA ("Keep on Walking") Ermanno Olmi has recreated the journey of the Magi as it might have been enacted by a village full of Italian peasants. Some refuse to make the trip; some drop out grumbling along the way; some persevere in search of a miracle - and all for the best of reasons. Olmi knows the strengths and limitations of the human spirit, ancient or contemporary, and fills his sublime and haunting pageant with suspense, gentle comedy, and ironic climax. This is a biblical story for our time, etched in a visual style as clear and mysterious as faith itself. What a tragedy that this towering film is virtually unknown in the United States except for presentations at a few international film festivals.

Chicago Reader (J.R. Jones) capsule review

Emboldened by the critical and commercial success of The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Italian director Ermanno Olmi indulged himself with this 1982 epic about the journey of the Magi to witness the birth of Christ. Like the earlier film, it was shot in Olmi's native Lombardy and cast entirely from the local peasantry, and the opening sequence shows the players preparing for a religious pageant as an announcer explains the film's naturalistic premise over a public-address system (shades of Altman's M*A*S*H). But here the combination of rural authenticity and minimal narrative, so effective in Olmi's best work, backfires: centuries removed from the story, the amateurs playing the three wise men and their followers become more a burden than an asset, and the long march to Bethlehem bogs down in a series of trials that test the pilgrims' faith—and the audience's patience. The script offers provocative flashes (when the pilgrims return home, leaving Jesus unprotected from Herod's slaughter, one of them tells a magus, “From now on in your temples you'll celebrate only his death!”), but they're overwhelmed by Olmi's piety. In Italian with subtitles. 150 min.

Spirituality & Practice (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat) review


Bible Films Blog [Matt Page]


MILANO 83                                                           A-                        94                               

Italy  (65 mi)  1983


Chicago Reader (Ted Shen) capsule review

Italian director Ermanno Olmi's valentine to his adopted city of Milan (1983, 62 min.) begins with a long scene of a Verdi opera being performed for the elite at La Scala, then moves into the streets where a maintenance crew is readying the piazza for a new day, right before Christmas. What follows is a series of impressionistic montages—snapshots of ordinary people, young and old; personal ads being read in a cacophony of voice-overs—that evokes the loneliness and impersonality of a metropolis teeming with alienated workers. Some of the sequences get tedious, but Olmi has deftly edited in time with his selections of opera, jazz, and pop. Also on the program is Tre fili fino a Milano (1958, 18 min.), one of the many documentaries Olmi made in the 50s while employed by the electric company Edison Volta. It's a simple visual poem that celebrates the hard work and joy of a crew putting up cables and electrical towers in the mountains. Both films are in Italian with subtitles.

LONG LIVE THE LADY!  (Lunga vita alla signora!)

Italy  (115 mi)  1987


Chicago Reader (Ted Shen) capsule review

A village boy, hired as a waiter for a lavish banquet in a medieval castle, observes the rituals of the upper crust in this whimsical 1987 comedy by Italian writer-director Ermanno Olmi. The first half of the film seems like a documentary, meticulously recording the meal's preparation and the youngsters' reaction to “downstairs” protocols. At the dinner, presided over by a feeble dowager, an international cast of jet-setters partake of an exotic menu capped by a giant fish, their elegant but joyless gathering countered on the sound track by Telemann's festive Table Music. Olmi mercilessly exposes the fatuity of the guests, the yawn behind the smile, but after his stinging critique the film ends with a shrug. In Italian with subtitles. 115 min.

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

A slight but charming comedy set in a remote chateau, to which come six catering-school teenagers to wait at a banquet. Seen largely through the watchful eyes of shy, solemn Libenzio (Esposito), the absurdly militaristic preparations, the meal, and the post-prandial relaxation away from the silent stare of the stern, cadaverous hostess, become as magically tantalising and dreamily sinister as the transition from childhood to adulthood. The often unpredictable, faintly surreal satire is distinguished by Olmi's subtle eye for detail; while the exact significance of relationships and events is left intriguingly ambiguous, a wealth of emotion is conveyed not by the remarkably sparse dialogue but by faces, glances and gestures momentarily caught by the camera's serene and tender gaze.

User comments  from imdb Author: Gerald A. DeLuca ( from United States

Made by the great director of TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS, IL POSTO , and CAMMINA CAMMINA, this movie is a contemporary comedy-allegory set mostly in an "enchanted" castle. The central character is Libenzio, a naive young apprentice waiter. Along with a group of other young people he is brought to the castle to assist in serving a gargantuan dinner of esoteric food. It is a gastronomic variation on the sado/sexual story of Pasolini's SALO'. The dinner is put on to honor a decrepit old woman who heads some mysterious multi-national conglomerate. It is part of an annual ritual attended by a crypto-Wagnerian elite. The jaded character of the guests is meant to contrast with the purer natures of the peasant youth who serve the meal. This is a strange and intriguing work which combines gothic black comedy with some lyrical counterpoint.

Channel 4 Film capsule review


The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review


THE LEGEND OF HOLY DRINKER (La leggenda del santo bevitore)             A-                        94

Italy  France  (127 mi)  1988


remarkably photographed in color, somewhat reminiscent of Leos Carax, but the deeply felt humanism is all Olmi


Chicago Reader (Ted Shen) capsule review

Rutger Hauer portrays a downtrodden alcoholic who gets a chance for redemption in this 1988 drama, one of Italian director Ermanno Olmi's few studio ventures, adapted from the last novella by Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth. Andreas (Hauer), a bum who sleeps under the bridges of the Seine, is given 200 francs one day by a mysterious old man (Anthony Quayle) who asks only that he put the same amount in the poor box of a local chapel as soon as he can afford to. Andreas finds temporary work, then sets out to return the money, only to be sidetracked by assorted temptations and memories of his tormented past as a miner in Poland. Yet his wallet is always miraculously replenished. Olmi charts this inebriated pilgrim's progress with excruciating detail that borders on the oppressive. The storytelling is laconic, relying on hallucinatory images (courtesy of cinematographer Dante Spinotti), Stravinsky's piquant music, and close-ups of Hauer's befuddled yet dignified face, all of which create a despairing, morose mood that's only dispelled at the end. In Italian and French with subtitles. 125 min.

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

A tramp, exiled in Paris and haunted by a criminal past, sees no way out of his predicament until, almost miraculously, he is offered 200 francs by a wealthy stranger whose only request is that, when he can afford it, he return the money to a chapel dedicated to St. Thérèse. A man of honour but weak will, the derelict takes the chance to rejoin a world to which he had become a stranger, finding work, keeping company with women, dining out and sleeping in beds; such luxuries, however, distract him from his obligation... Olmi's adaptation of Joseph Roth's novella is faithful and charming, filmed with a simplicity that mirrors the original's economy. As the alcoholic, though a tad too clean, Rutger Hauer effortlessly suggests the character's blend of pride, dignity and vunerability, while Olmi eschews prosaic realism in his evocation of Paris, seen as an oddly timeless, universal city; the lyricism matches the almost magical coincidences of the plot. Indeed the film has the resonance and innocence of a parable, its religious elements widely subordinated to a story that is told with a minimum of fuss and explanatory dialogue. Quite why the film is so affecting is hard to hard to pin down: maybe it's because Olmi is so sure of his gentle, generous touch that he feels no need for overstatement.

THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER (Ermanno Olmi, 1988)  Dennis Grunes

Because it has an air of fable or legend about it, La leggenda del santo bevitore somewhat resembles Orson Welles’s The Immortal Story (1968) or Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful (1997). Some may even be reminded of Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan (1951).     

Written, directed and edited by Ermanno Olmi, the film derives from Joseph Roth’s 1939 novella, his last work. Roth was an Austrian Jew who exiled himself to Paris with the rise of Hitler in 1933. Roth, who wrote about Jewish life (for instance, in Job, 1930), suffered from chronic alcoholism, like Andreas Kartak (Rutger Hauer, beautiful), the protagonist of Legend, who, impoverished and homeless, sleeps under bridges in Paris in 1934. One day a stranger gifts Andreas in the street with 200 francs, explaining a debt he (the stranger) owes to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Andreas promises to repay the 200 francs, when he is able, to a nearby church. But each Sunday something comes up, including pleasant distractions or shards of painful memory from his haunting past; and, even though the 200 francs lead to more and more money coming his way, Andreas doesn’t repay the debt he owes. Olmi’s enchanting film is a study of loss, shame, perseverence and redemption.     

In the opening shot, the solidity of the outdoor stairs down which Andreas walks is wobbled by falling leaves, which evoke transience. The whole “legend” that unfolds may be Andreas’s dying fantasy; doubtless, much of what Andreas “sees” are apparitions or delusions induced by chronic drinking. Holding the pocket watch they gave him years earlier when he set out on his own, Andreas “sees” his parents in a bar. He passes out at table; when he awakes, the elderly couple are gone.     

Everything evaporates.

Problems of Classification: A Few Traits in Four Films by Ermanno Olmi  Jonathan Rosenbaum, originally published May 2012

Channel 4 Film capsule review

THE SECRET OF THE OLD WOODS (Il segreto del bosco vecchio)             A-              93

Italy   (134 mi)  1993


A somewhat surrealist view of a magical woods that seems to have a mind of its own, just a baffling change of pace from Olmi's ultra-realism

User comments  from imdb Author: maple-2 from United States

This Ecological Fairy Tale, with live actors and talking animals tells the story of a colonel (Paolo Villaggio) who is entrusted with a large estate of woodlands until his schoolboy nephew comes of age. Disregarding local tradition and the practice of his esteemed deceased brother, the military man decides to selectively cut the old growth timber. He is confronted with the protestations of the tree spirits (Giulio Brogi) and the local townsfolk, to no avail. Over their objection he releases the unpredictable wind from the cave to which it has been confined, and even wishes for the early demise of his nephew so he can own the woods outright. But he comes to value human contact more, starts to come to terms with most of the spirits, and reverses some plots to get rid of his nephew. A bit like a live action Hayan Miyazaki tale such as Princess Mononoke, but not so violent.

GENESIS:  THE CREATION AND THE FLOOD (Genesi: La creazione e il diluvio) – Made for TV

Italy  Germany  USA  (91 mi)  1994

User comments  from imdb Author: Gerald A. DeLuca ( from United States

I was very moved by the images in this lyric evocation of the Book of Genesis by the great Italian director Ermanno Olmi, whose TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS is one of my favorite films of all time.

Through a series of painterly images, and the calming, soothing narration of Omero Antonutti (Paul Scofield in the English version,) we are hand-led from the creation of man (in simple, elemental, but effective brush-strokes) to the fall of man, to what constitutes the longest segment of the film, Noah's construction of the ark, and the first of mankind's redemptions. Omero Antonutti plays the old man, the prophet-vessel of God himself as his boat is the vessel of a new humanity. The loading of the animals, the sense among Noah's extended family during the voyage that they are part of something greater than themselves, the dove at Ararat with the olive branch in its mouth, the vista of a subsiding ocean, all create, with the simplest of means, an impression that can be sublimely moving. And we ask ourselves why. What special gift can make a film director convert images, words, and sounds into the sacramental?

The music and musical selections by Ennio Morricone (with a great deal of Bulgarian women's chants incorporated) create a haunting impression as well. One does not have to be a great believer or even a believer at all, to be swayed by this work of wondrous poetry.

THE PROFESSION OF ARMS (Il mestiere delle armi)

Italy  France  Germany  Bulgaria  (100 mi)  2001


Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

To follow the first half of Olmi's dense narrative - charting developments in the 16th century war between the Papal army and an invading German force - it'd be wise to do some historical research beforehand: so swiftly and persistently are we bombarded by names, dates, facts and figures, that the only theme to emerge with any clarity is that of war, the world and our view of life and our fellow men having been transformed (for the worse, naturally) by the development of firearms. Thereafter, however, things slow down to focus more closely on the heroic captain Giovanni de' Medici, wounded by a cannonball and bravely facing amputation; here, Olmi's historical rigour still pertains, but, in being applied to an individual's experiences, rather than that of society at large, allows for a more accessible meditation on courage, mortality, love and loyalty. A very fine film, then, but also, for a while, extremely, even excessively demanding.

User comments  from imdb Author: Viator Veritatis from Italy

This is an absolute must for anybody interested in Olmi's work or in the Italian Renaissance. One of the best Italian productions in years.

As usual, Olmi concentrates on the grey landscapes of his native Padana plains, engulfed in a swirling fog dominating the human figures which move through it, in an atmosphere of timeless melancholiness. As in its masterpiece, "L'albero degli zoccoli", Olmi successfully tries to paint a picture of the characters' feelings and strivings through the pitfalls of a difficult existence, devoid of any intrinsec meaning.

Do not misunderstand me - this is none of the pacifist crap fashionable amongst trendy critics and intellectuals. Neither it is a convoluted attempt to convey "profound" sociological or psychoanalytical concepts. That's why it didn't win the prize it deserved at Cannes. The film is rather an attempt to represent the reality of human loneliness and meaninglessness within a particular historical setting: that of a time when soldiery was still a "mestiere", a job, a professional choice devoid of the religious overtones which national myths have impressed on it in later times.

The Generals of both armies are no heroes, but rather human beings endowed with very human needs - Giovanni writes his loving wife to send him underpants, and his far less loving uncle, the Pope, to send him some money to pay his men. These are poor and humiliated men, fighting in the pope's behalf, and receiving blessings (instead of money) in exchange. Their one solace through religion consists in the act of burning churches and crosses to warm themselves a little - "That's the Christ of us poor people, he will help us", they say finding a huge wooden crucifix, and the face of the Christ being burnt is a testimony to their grieves. But the leader of the German Landsknechten, famous von Freundsberg, is also an old man who, for all his vain ferocity, is forced to go back to Germany after his victory because of his old age and illnesses.

The peasants fleeing through the fog, or hung by the German troopers, are wistful - more than tragic - elements of an unmoving landscape, mute testimony to the eternal cycles of war, of suffering, of pathetic strives to win victories that will be forgotten one day or week or month later, as new puppets will "strut and fret their hours upon the stage, and then will be heard no more" (from the famous monologue of Macbeth).

A masterpiece from Ermanno Olmi. A film worth seeing wherever you live.

Variety (David Rooney) review

A rigorous account of the final days in the life of Giovanni De Medici, who embraced his role as a soldier with an almost religious devotion and fervor, "The Profession of Arms" is veteran Italian director Ermanno Olmi's most accomplished and cogent work in years. Demanding, difficult and almost impenetrable at first due to its dense salvo of historical figures and events, this atmospheric drama slowly evolves into a fascinating character portrait and a deeply humanistic meditation on war and death. Olmi's eloquent Renaissance apologia for gun control is unlikely to make Charlton Heston's top 10 and is too inaccessible even for the normal foreign film crowd, but might find admirers at the extreme high end of the arthouse niche.

A legendary warrior despite his young age, renowned for his valor and good fortune in battle, Giovanni (referred to here in old Italian as Joanni) had his troops blacken their armor to advance unseen on the enemy by night, earning them the name of the Black Band. Opening with the funeral in 1526 of 28-year-old Giovanni (Bulgarian newcomer Hristo Jivkov), the drama backtracks one week to chronicle his mission as leader of the Papal mercenary army that provided the final protective barrier between his uncle, Pope Clement VII, and the advancing German lansquenet forces of Charles V.

With Italian liberty careening toward an end, political confusion was accelerating and loyalties were severely compromised, prompting the Papal hierarchy in Rome and the country's noblemen to secure whatever personal gains they could from a rapidly deteriorating situation. As a result of this chaos, Giovanni's call for reinforcements and weapons fell on deaf ears.

Olmi's backgrounding of this chronicle is limited largely to identifying the extended gallery of characters with onscreen titles. In Italy, where most audiences have some knowledge of historical figures such as the Medicis and Gonzagas and geographical familiarity with the Northern countryside along the Po River where the events take place, the minimal exposition may not present a problem. Foreign audiences likely will have great difficulty distinguishing who's who and where their allegiances lie. In this respect, however, the film may benefit from having its wordy old-Italian text condensed into more concise, easily comprehensible subtitles.

But just as Olmi, while reflecting on the futility of war, displays only a finite interest in the spectacle of battle, so his aim is less to document particular historical events than to use them as a spiritual springboard for his examination of the human soul and, most importantly, the process of facing death with dignity.

That aim is underlined by an approach that distances itself from the detached documentary feel of Olmi's best-known work, such as 1978 Palme d'Or-winner "Tree of Wooden Clogs," adopting instead a more impressionistic style that steadily builds depth and nuance. Also a departure is the lean editing and use of short pithy scenes here, whereas Olmi's films frequently have tended toward dull longwindedness. (Shooting script reportedly ran much longer and was considerably modified during post.)

While the first half of the film focuses on Giovanni's courage and dedication to his task as soldier and protector, the second half portrays him bringing that same sense of bravery and calm acceptance to the days of suffering that precede his death.

His downfall comes during a clash with the Germans, who, thanks to self-serving Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua (Sergio Grammatico) and the Duke of Ferrara (Giancarlo Belelli), have come into possession of four newly introduced light cannons known as falconets. Seriously wounded in the upper leg, Giovanni endures the amputation of his gangrenous limb and a final four days of agony. A closing quotation from the period, advocating an end to the use of firearms, encapsulates Olmi's pacifist message.

It's in the powerful, remarkably sustained account of Giovanni's deathbed torment that Olmi masterfully expands the scope of his erudite character study.

Shifting between lucidity and mild delirium, surrounded by the men who have betrayed and supported him and by mocking, carnal frescos, Giovanni reflects on his life and work, his dutiful wife (Dessy Tenekedjieva) and his mistress (Sandra Ceccarelli), a noblewoman from Mantua carrying his child. What emerges is a quietly stirring portrait of the martyrdom of a man of unshakable faith and courage, an expert in the art of war tainted by human weaknesses but fueled by firm convictions and oddly noble sentiments.

Olmi's ultra-Catholic ideology and sermonizing on Christian values have contributed to distance many critics from his work over the past twenty years. But here those beliefs are employed with uncharacteristic moderation and intelligence. This is especially notable in a scene in which Giovanni's ruffian soldiers are reprimanded by their leader as they destroy a plundered crucifix for firewood.

More than a history lesson, this is an atmosphere-driven drama. Lensing by the director's son Fabio Olmi could perhaps have benefited from the enhanced visual sweep of widescreen rather than standard 35mm. But the choice of shooting the austere castles and Po River settings (Bulgarian locations stood in for the majority) in gloomy candlelight or through mist, sleet and snow adds a rich texture to the film's formal beauty and the painterly composition of almost every frame. Composer Fabio Vacchi's fretful strings and melancholy choral arrangements also are effective.

Continuing his preference for using mainly little-known or non-professional actors, Olmi has assembled a mixed cast of Italians and Central Europeans, and while the post-synched dialogue imposes a slightly flat studio sound, the expressive faces, free from actorish mannerisms, contribute greatly to the film's arresting solemnity. review  Ron Holloway


SINGING BEHIND SCREENS (Cantando dietro i paraventi)

Italy  Great Britain  France  (98 mi)  2003  ‘Scope

User comments  from imdb Author: frippertronic81 from Cagliari, Italy

"Cantando dietro i paraventi" tells the story of a woman who takes the leadership of a group of pirates which was once at the orders of her dead husband. Olmi got us used to the mix of epic fable and historical tale but this time he also expresses his personal views on storytelling through an explicit use of a theatrical representation. All aspects of cinematography are at very high levels in this movie: excellent photography (the hands of Fabio Olmi are a big promise for Italian cinema), beautiful sounds and striking dialogs even though in the Italian version the Chinese actors are not superbly dubbed. Everything is very well mixed together and the spectator truly has the feeling to live in one of those ancient oriental fables. I personally think this title doesn't achieve the formal perfection of "Il Mestiere delle armi" or "L'albero degli zoccoli" but is still very enjoyable and well made reminding me the more poetic version of Olmi that we've seen in "Il segreto del bosco vecchio". Surely one of the best movies of 2003 .

Variety (Jay Weissberg) review

Jettisoning all traces of his realist style, veteran helmer Ermanno Olmi has crafted his most complex and sumptuous work to date with "Singing Behind Screens." This Chinese folktale, partly staged in a brothel, is the product of a mature director confident with the range of techniques at his command. Arthouse auds familiar with the Olmi name and sympathetic to Chinese period tales may help to defray, or even cover, pic's 10 million euro pricetag. Stateside, Miramax has already picked up pic as part of a package deal.

Olmi himself sees the film as a follow-up to his anti-war "The Profession of Arms," but the multi-layered construction and ravishing imagery combine to make it more like a fairytale.

A young man (Davide Dragonetti), in what looks like 1930s urban China, gets lost and mistakenly enters a Chinese brothel. Though visibly uncomfortable, he becomes attracted not only to the sexual situations but even more to the staged narration of a Chinese folktale about a female pirate.

Pic initially crosscuts between the start of the staging and the young man's entrance. Though it occasionally returns to this character, for the most part the film moves between the highly theatrical staging of the story in the brothel and the "opened-out" scenes in actual locations.

Fable is narrated by an old captain (Bud Spencer) from the deck of a large Chinese junk that fills one end of a huge room. The brothel's clients, in little reed huts arranged with a view of the stage, can either watch the show or indulge in other pleasures.

Initially only the narrator's voice is heard, and the action is performed as a dance. However, at the moment the young man succumbs to the charms of a hooker, the pic cuts to a real lake where pirate junks are firing on a shoreside village.

Leader of the pirates is Admiral Ching (Makoto Kobayashi), who's backed by a consortium of profiteers. To calm things down, the Emperor (Xuwu Chen) offers Ching a high title if he'll give up his pillaging. However, Ching's backers, unwilling to lose their income, murder the pirate first with a poisoned carp.

Ching's widow (Jun Ichikawa) seeks vengeance, pillaging villages and vessels and becoming the most feared corsair of the coast. When the old emperor dies and his heir (Sultan Temir Omarov) ascends the throne, the new ruler personally goes out to capture the widow.

Olmi has worked with fairytales and fantasy before, from the sweet simplicity of "The Legend of the Holy Drinker" to the childish misfire of "The Secret of the Old Wood." But "Singing" is a more complex realization of the director's liking for creating multiple worlds that work both in the imagination and in real terms, somewhat a la Peter Greenaway. Auds expecting a swashbuckling tale or an anti-war tract will be disappointed: Skirmishes and pillaging are kept to a minimum, and the pirate figure is sympathetic, so it's hard to perceive any pacifist theme here.

Rights problems prevented screen credit being given to Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate" from his "A Universal History of Infamy." (In fact, Borges took the plot from a 19th-century Chinese work, and the tale may well go back further than that.) Olmi adds the framing device of the brothel, using the staged play-within-a-play to reveal what is seen as the essence of truth. The plot boils down to a tale of fury appeased by forgiveness; the opulent staging gives a sense of depth to the material.

Glorious lensing by Olmi's son, Fabio, makes the stunning vistas of Lake Scutari in Montenegro completely convince as a Chinese coast, with majestic, painterly mountains. Where "The Profession of Arms" (also shot by Fabio), was memorable for its icy blues and smoky whites of a frozen landscape, here the dominant tones are opulent blues, rich reds and vibrant yellows, all redolent of the Far East.

Music mirrors the striking settings, with generous chunks of Stravinsky, Berlioz and Ravel.

Thesps take a back seat to the visual compositions. As often, Olmi gathers a cast of mostly unknowns, headlined by female dancer Jun Ichikawa (not to be confused with the male Japanese helmer), whose calm, at times hard exterior occasionally slips to reveal the jumble of emotions that thrust her into pirating. Seasoned vet Bud Spencer (aka Carlo Pedersoli) brings flair to the narrator's theatrical recitation, and finds humor in the role without straying into Robert Newton-like excesses.

Film's title comes from a Chinese poem, in which the sign of a contented home is said to be the sound of a woman singing within its walls.

d+kaz . intelligent movie reviews [Daniel Kasman]


Italy  Great Britain  (109 mi)  2004  Omnibus film co-directors:  Ken Loach and Abbas Kiarostami


The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

Most anthology films present a handful of directors doing less than their best work, but Tickets—a three-way collaboration between Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami, and Ken Loach—not only contains some fine filmmaking, it works as a unified piece. Tickets' three parts take place on the same train on the same day. Veteran Italian neo-realist Olmi tracks a professor who's having trouble enjoying the meal in his first-class dining car because he's preoccupied by thoughts of his beautiful personal assistant, and by a poor refugee family he can see just beyond the glass coach door. Kiarostami follows Olmi with a sketch of the strange relationship between a domineering older woman and the handsome young man who reluctantly looks after her. And Loach brings up the rear with the most plot-driven film, about three Scottish soccer fans who encounter Olmi's refugee family and have to make a decision about whether they can help.

All three films focus on how small gestures get magnified in a cramped, noisy space. If someone loses a ticket or won't stop crying, the hassle grows exponentially. Taken as a complete film, Tickets uses a traveler's discomfort as a metaphor for how Europe is dealing with its immigration problem. To refugees, their plight is the single most important thing happening. To everyone else, they're an inconvenience, spoiling an otherwise pleasant trip.

More vital than Tickets' theme is how each filmmaker approaches it. Loach goes after it head-on, dropping his trio of well-meaning working-class knuckleheads into a naturalistic film heavy on improvised dialogue and tense yelling matches. Olmi tackles the theme more artfully, in a beautifully lit, elegantly structured film that flashes backward and forward to show how one man's consciousness wanders, unable to hold one thought. But Kiarostami's film is the most remarkable, mainly for how it breaks free of the fixed-camera experiments he's been dabbling with lately, and uses a style that could almost pass for conventional, if not for the long, hypnotic shots of clouds and rolling countryside reflected off multiple windows. As for Kiarostami's story, it's about an obnoxious, overweight woman who sits where she wants and bickers with everyone, and the wonder of the film is that she equally represents old-world Europe and its changing face.

BFI | Sight & Sound | Film of the Month: Tickets (2005)   Roger Clarke from Sight and Sound, December 2005

Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach and Ermanno Olmi chart the emotional odyssey of six characters over the course of a railway journey from Austria to Rome.

The idea for Tickets originated in an informal conversation between producers Carlo Cresto-Dina and Babak Karimi. But it wasn't until Abbas Kiarostami met his chosen collaborators Ken Loach and Ermanno Olmi that the film's form and narrative premise fell into place. Though it's tempting to see Loach and Olmi's contributions as mere wings to the triptych's central piece (indeed, one famous critic ostentatiously left the screening I attended the minute Kiarostami's section finished), it was Olmi who came up with the conceit of the train journey, and it's his lustrous and extraordinarily textured first section that opens the film.

Carlo Delle Piane, a regular in the films of Olmi's compatriot Pupi Avati, plays an elderly pharmacist (anonymously dubbed "the professor") experiencing travel chaos in Austria. He's been away on business but is expected back home in Rome for the birthday party of his grandson. His scheduled flight has run into problems, but Valéria Bruni Tedeschi's angel of an Austrian PA (she has golden hair and appears almost to be floating) has found him a ticket for an intercity train. He's impressed that she has booked him for two meal sittings in the dining car so he will be assured a seat for the duration of the journey. Yet some kind of security crisis seems to be affecting the train. In a scene chillingly reminiscent of countless World War II-set scenarios, before the journey begins soldiers and police patrol the station concourse as Tannoys bark German and German Shepherd dogs nose around. The passengers look confused, intimidated and a little frightened. There's a scent of madness in the air.

Delle Piane's character bears precious little resemblance to that other Italian chemist, Primo Levi. With his fashionable flat cap, neat white beard, rimless spectacles and indignation at being asked for identity papers by a passing policeman, there's something absurd about him. And there's a whisper of Visconti's late movies about ageing and memory in the way he descends into reveries about ethereal blondes. As Chopin is played in the carriage (a fellow passenger cannot get his CD player earpiece to operate) the professor tries to write a letter of thanks to Bruni Tedeschi's PA, which elides, via memories of childhood experiences of music, into fantastical confessions of romantic attraction. The more he dreams of girls playing pianos and candlelit dinners with his angel, the more he is given to little whimsical skips and euphoric gambols. His dainty rejection and then acceptance of an aperitif is in some sense the 'strawberry moment' of Death in Venice. The professor confesses in voiceover, to be "daydreaming like a teenager". Yet here is a man facing old age who cannot even decide on the way to address his correspondent, relentlessly writing and rewriting his opening sentence.

What's especially noticeable about this first section is how Olmi uses sound - the boom of station noise, overheard music and conversations, babies squalling in corridors, the sometimes deafening rattle of the train fading in and out of muffled private moments - to get around the restrictions of space imposed by the train location. But try as he might, the professor can't help but be drawn back to the reality of the carriage's night-mirrored window and the army officer (who looks oddly like Jean-Claude Van Damme, but isn't) sitting scowling opposite him. The soldier speaks only accented English - the new voice of international imperialism, we must understand - but his greatest crime is causing a mother to spill her baby's milk as she hunkers down to feed the child in the crowded corridor between carriages. As the professor asks the waiter to bring him some warm milk so he can take it to the mother, and the train staff mop up the spillage, which looks so much like a puddle of blood, the moment of final resignation comes: the sleep of old age and the old grown helpless like babies again.

From St. Jerome to the rampaging rhinocerine Madonna of Kiarostami's central section, which is shot in daylight. A woman in late middle-age, with white hair and a string of pearls, boards the train with a host of suitcases gamely carried by a young assistant. She treats him as a lover, a toyboy, a kept man; but it later transpires that he appears to be on some form of national service, and that she is a widow on the way to a memorial service for her army-general husband. Silvana De Santis plays the woman with sweaty, angry energy; nothing will stand in her way and she will co-operate with no one she considers beneath her. The young man, played by Filippo Trojano, has a sad expression and beautiful eyes, which are later accentuated by the flat lighting Kiarostami deploys when the man is talking to a young friend of his sister whom he meets in the corridor (and of whom De Santis' character is jealous). This frontality, this sense of painted iconography, is homage enough to Kiarostami's late friend Pier Paolo Pasolini (Kiarostami's charcoal sketch of Pasolini hung in the bedroom of the Rome flat of the Italian director's muse, Laura Betti, until her death last year).

By the conclusion of this second segment De Santis and Trojano's characters have rowed and separated. She leaves the train alone and unaided, but not before one of the best sequences in the film, which harks back to one of the Iranian director's longstanding obsessions and involves an argument over mobile phones (Kiarostami considers them a curse of modernity). The performances in this section are generally the best in the movie, and the final bust-up between Kiarostami's characters, shot through Venetian blinds with the reflection of the countryside rushing past, is quite beautiful.

And so to Ken Loach. His section does little with the space or the noise of the environment, and concentrates squarely on character - with a touch of comedy thrown in. His protagonists are fans of Celtic Football Club: three of them, all young men, travelling to Rome, like Chaucerian pilgrims, for a Champions League match. They've brought a huge bag of sandwiches from their Asda workplace to feed themselves along the way. After one of them gives a sandwich to a young Albanian boy they discover the lad has stolen a train ticket from them. There is then a moral struggle as the Scots talk to the family of the boy and have to make a quick decision about letting them keep the ticket. Is the family genuinely in need, or are they crooks? With Loach we always know the wisdom of the working man will shine through, and so it does. The Celtic fans make the right call, and the fraternity of football fandom gathered at the station in Rome helps the seemingly fare-dodging trio to evade the police. If Loach delivers easily the least rich and imaginative section of the film, it's a satisfyingly light conclusion to Olmi's frightening opening gambit and a welcome return to normality.

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)  also seen here:  Turner Classic Movies


Floatation Suite [Sheila Seacroft]

Eye for Film (Anton Bitel) review [3/5]

Stylus Magazine [Sandro Matosevic]

Slant Magazine [Fernando F. Croce]   Antonio Pasolini

DVD Outsider  Slarek

The Lumière Reader  Tim Wong

DVD Talk (David Cornelius) dvd review [4/5]  also seen here: (David Cornelius) review [5/5]

Bina007 Movie Reviews

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

Tickets  British Film catalogue


Empire Magazine [UK] review [4/5]


Variety (Deborah Young) review


BBCi - Films  Matthew Leyland

Time Out London review  Geoff Andrew

The Observer (Philip French) review

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review

The Independent (Anthony Quinn) review [3/5] [Per-olaf Strandberg]


Italy  (92 mi)  2007


Time Out London (Geoff Andrew) review

Patience! Olmi’s little seen, much misunderstood film – purportedly his last feature – is a bizarre, elegant gem shifting surprisingly but seamlessly from a faintly noir, semi-satirical look at a university library’s desecration – fuelling fears of religious/political terrorism – to a pastoral fable about the priestlike culprit’s redemptive refuge in the Po valley. Who is this man, violently abandoning book-learning? A saviour to folks facing environmental exploitation? Not unlike a latterday, more effective ‘Miracle in Milan’, this profoundly Catholic, profoundly personal fable veers, like many Olmi films, between the seemingly inept and the spellbindingly innocent, magical in its tenderness, its striking visuals and its unpredictability. Don’t miss – but give it time.

Variety (Jay Weissberg) review

All the books in the world aren't nearly as valuable as a single cup of coffee with a friend -- so says "One Hundred Nails," Ermanno Olmi's disappointing follow-up to his luminous "Singing Behind Screens" (2003). Helmer, now 75, has declared this his last fiction feature, a double-blow for those who felt he'd just reached his most fruitful period -- until now. Following a professor's epiphany from jaded scholar to messiah-like neighbor, unconvincing tale may be screened at offshore Italo fests and retros. But given that Olmi's last two (superior) pics were shelved internationally, it's doubtful "Nails" will find takers.

Unsparingly religious in tone, despite the ad line "Religions have never saved the world," film opens with a scene redolent of "The Da Vinci Code," as tremulous strings accompany a caretaker's horrified shouts from a library's locked gate. When the cops arrive, the cause of his agitation is clear: Someone has nailed 100 precious manuscripts into the floor. Not just normal nails, but big ones, like the kind used to hammer Jesus onto the cross.

While police try to identify the perp, a flashback to the day before shows a professor of philosophy (Raz Degan), whose name Olmi deliberately withholds, bidding farewell to students at semester's end. Of special significance is an Indian student (Amina Syed), completing her thesis on women and religion, who explains that religion is the one certainty in her people's lives.

Suddenly, off goes the prof in his BMW convertible, which he abandons before heading to the banks of the Po River and a ruined peasant house. Venturing into town, he's taken aback by the friendliness of the people, so unlike the bookish cityfolk back at Bologna U. Flirtations develop, neighbors help him fix up the ruins, and everyone turns to the charismatic newcomer for help when their illegally built community center is threatened with demolition.

How the professor turns into a Christlike figure, or indeed why they need him at all, remains a mystery -- Olmi's sympathetic yet simplistic view of the rural population displays a surprisingly (for him) patronizing attitude, as if they somehow need this intellectual outsider in order to survive. Final shot of candles lit along the road in anticipation of the prof's return reinforces the sense of deification.

Olmi's stated aim is to depict a figure exhibiting the humanity of Christ -- not the Son of God, but the Son of Man. However, this still begs the question: Would Jesus damage precious manuscripts to make a facile and wrong-headed point? Olmi sets up a questionable dichotomy between an elderly, dried-up Monsignor with one milky eye, seen as the rep of the Church and all things bookish, and the handsome professor who's turned his back on everything but human contact.

In many ways, "One Hundred Nails" harks back to Olmi's earliest films, with a touch of Pasolini, evident not only in the locations but also the largely nonpro cast. Fabio Olmi's lensing repeatedly returns to the river's calm, presenting a timeless land of purer values than those of the city, though lacking the richness of his last two pics with father Ermanno. Music forms a key element, not only Fabio Vacchi's post-Stravinsky strings, but also Ravel and traditional tunes turned into sacred chorales.

One Hundred Nails (Centochiodi) | Review | Screen  Lee Marshall from Screendaily 

Veteran Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi is a devout Catholic, and his work has long had a spiritual agenda. But even in such obvious parables as The Legend Of The Holy Drinker (which won a Golden Lion in Venice in 1988), the message is generally masked behind a credible contemporary drama, a la Kieslowski.

It's a shame that in One Hundred Nails, which the director has announced is to be his last feature, Olmi gives in to the temptations of overt Biblical symbolism in a film that has neither the dramatic sinew nor the charismatic central performance to support the weight.

Italian audiences have given it a respectful reception after it opened on 30 March: Olmi's signature still has authority among older cineastes. Younger audiences may be drawn by the presence of Israeli-born, Italian-based poster boy Raz Degan in the headline role, though the latter's fitful movie career (he was last seen as Darius in Alexander) has hardly helped to keep him in the public eye.

Festival action is by no means a given for this fragile swansong, and it is difficult seeing One Hundred Nails drumming up much interest from distributors outside of Italy.

With its story of a university theology professor (played by Degan) who escapes to a rural idyll by the banks of the Po, One Hundred Nails has moments of great lyricism. In its portrait of a simple community that has created a riverbank bulwark against the advance of modernity, the film has shades of Mark Twain's Mississippi novels or Jean Renoir's unfinished film Partie de Campagne.

But two things undermine the authority of the film's pastoral dream. The first is the absurdity of its initial premise, which takes us into the territory of a Da Vinci Code reimagined by Dario Argento.

Early one morning, a custodian discovers that a hundred precious manuscripts have been nailed to the floors and desks of a university library with thick, crucifix-style iron nails.

This whole opening sequence, with its clunky dialogue and theatrical lighting and music effects, seems deliberately pitched in B-movie mode; only the disorienting syntax created by the overlapping and interleaving of scenes hints that we are in the hands of an auteur.

The mystery stays a mystery for no more than 10 minutes; the culprit is the intense 'professorino' (young professor) played by Raz Degan; his motive, clear from the start but hammered home (just in case we missed it) at the end, is the sudden realisation that book-learning has cut him off from real life: "all the books in the world", he preaches to a compliant carabaniere, "are not worth a coffee with a friend".

And here One Hundred Nails' other main problem is spotlighted: the hobo Christ that Degan becomes when he flees academia, and his fast car, for a tumbledown hovel by the Po, is a humourless hermit whose Son-of-God credentials are overplayed by the script (which, among other things, refuses to give 'il professorino' a name) and by Degan himself.

We're consoled, though, by warm performances from the cast of mostly non-professionals who play the villagers that adopt Degan's character and help him fix up his panoramic hovel. Olmi's nostalgic affection for the earthy rhythms and grounded good-humour of rural life comes through as strongly as it did in one of the director's most celebrated works, The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (1978).

All is simpler in this tight-knit but generous community, and people engage in more wholesome activities than those stressed city folk. Degan's love interest – a gawky, freckled Mary Magdalen – works in a bakery; the young 'disciple' he befriends is a postman who used to work as a builder; the oldies who come to drink and dance at the riverside bar and social club paint, or recite poems, or sing: all is pre-technological, and il professorino is the only one who seems to know how to use a computer.

But as the bulldozers of those we take to be the modern-day Pharisees threaten this pastoral enclave, the Biblical symbolism is forced down our throats more insistently (there are references to Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the Resurrection, and many other canonical moments), and the ironic spark of il professorino's rural hosts is doused so that they can sit around the table, wide-eyed and admiring, while he does his Jesus act.

Just as we never really believe that Degan's character would have hammered all those nails into all those medieval manuscripts, so we never really buy the villagers' capitulation to this Donovan-like Christ who appears in their midst with no apparent backstory.

Olmi clearly wanted to use his final feature to make a sort of spiritual summa of his career so far; but the medium is too slender for the message.

Still, the elegaic mood is underlined by the impressionistic nature shots of cinematographer Fabio Olmi, the director's son, who does wonders with natural lighting effects; and by Fabio Vacchi's moody score, which plays insistently with a couple of melancholy thirties songs rearranged by Sardinian jazz musician Paolo Fresu. Olmi is a master at texturing sound and image to create atmosphere. (Howard Schumann) review


The Lumière Reader  Joe Sheppard


Moving Pictures - On Fest & Film blog : One Hundred Nails ...  Ron Holloway


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review


Prost Amerika


2007 Toronto International Film Festival Journal  Ken Rudolph’s Movie Site



Italy  (78 mi)  2009

User comments  from imdb Author: howiemac from Scotland

Terra Madre (Mother Earth) is a bi-annual multi-language conference hosted in Torino (Turin) by the Slow Food Organization - a network of food communities, each committed to producing quality food in a responsible, sustainable way. They aim to foster discussion and innovation in the related fields of gastronomy and ecology and global economics.

This film starts out like a documentary of the 2008 Terra Madre conference in Torino, presenting stimulating views on the importance of bio-diversity, and working in harmony with nature. Ermanno Olmi builds masterfully on his theme, confronting the fate of the planet.. The film then gloriously metamorphoses into a beautiful and poetic slow experience of food cultivation in harmony with nature.

An unforgettable and thought provoking experience: this film seems to move beyond the normal boundaries of the documentary format. I, for one, will not forget its message, nor its beautiful imagery.

Terra Madre, a documentary by Ermanno Olmi - Home - TerraMadre ...

In his new documentary Terra Madre, inspired by the Terra Madre network of food communities, internationally renowned Italian director Ermanno Olmi delivers a powerful message about the critical issue of food, and its economic, environmental and social implications.

Terra Madre was conceived in 2006 by Ermanno Olmi and Slow Food president Carlo Petrini, united by their passion for the work and values of the farmers and others gathered at the international Terra Madre gathering in Turin.

‘Only Ermanno Olmi’s sensitivity could express the ethical value of this extraordinary gathering, Terra Madre,’ said Carlo Petrini. ‘This is a global network made up of a rich diversity of people, professions, and cultures and beliefs, which stretches to 153 countries across the world. It sows and cultivates positive ideas for the protection of biodiversity, respect for the environment and the dignity of food, for a future of peace and harmony with nature’.

Shooting commenced at the meeting in 2006, following which Olmi embarked upon an in-depth exploration that culminated in Autumn 2008, prior to the following edition of Terra Madre. The documentary includes moments from the international gathering, and follows some of the participants on returning to their homelands, interweaving their stories with the director’s own vision and ideas, to create a foretelling, political piece.

‘At the Terra Madre meeting I recognized the peasants who used to live in my countryside, at the time of my childhood’, states Ermanno Olmi. ‘Their faces look alike, no matter which corner of the world they come from. On those faces I could see the same marks, those that remind you of the landscape of ploughed fields, the rows of trees, the pastures. Today that world is besieged by big business, which only aims at profits. The peasants also want to have a profit, but their attachment to the land is also an act of love: this feeling harbours the respect for nature.’

The world premiere of Terra Madre was held on February 6 at Cinema Paris in the festival’s Berlinale Special section. A second showing of the documentary was made on February 12 in the festival’s Kulinarisches Kino (Culinary Cinema) section. The documentary was also previewed during the Slow Food on Film festival in Italy on May 6, and is now showing in many movie theaters round the country.

Film Review: Terra Madre  Peter Brunette from The Hollywood Reporter

BERLIN -- Ever since 1978 when he burst into full view on the international scene with the magnificent "Tree of the Wooden Clogs," 77-year-old Italian auteur Ermanno Olmi has been known as the enraptured cinematic poet of peasant life, life lived close to, and in harmony with, the earth.

In this new documentary centered around the international Slow Food movement, which began in Italy, Olmi shows that he has lost none of his passion or poetry.

While prospects for theatrical release seem remote, the film is a must-see for festival programrs concerned in any way with issues of globalization and sustainability. It should also have a healthy life in ancillary markets, especially DVD.

The documentary is loosely structured around two gigantic events called "Terra Madre," hosted by the Slow Food movement, in 2006 and 2008. More than 6,000 cooks, farmers, shepherds, and fishermen from more than 130 countries gathered to celebrate what has become an impassioned, worldwide movement away from globalized, destructive corporate farming back to the local variety that bolsters the earth's productivity rather than merely exploiting and denuding it.

Most of the first half of the film is interspersed with clips from various speeches and local ethnic performances given during the two events, with Olmi's crew following up on the specifics of various fascinating initiatives, such as the International Seed Bank that has been established deep inside an island north of Norway to protect more than 4 million seed samples. Poetic interludes intoned on the soundtrack by Italian actor Omero Antonutti give a pleasing mythic aspect to the whole.

We move around various places in Italy and India, as advocates speak movingly of the "new enlightenment" that will come from learning to live with less, rather than any sense of deprivation. The local folk music that accompanies these sketches is stirring and offers strong evidence for the ultimate unity of the amazing diversity of our world. An emotional high point comes when a high schooler from Massachusetts speaks to the group about the hugely productive garden he and his friends have set up at their school, and the immense crowd goes wild when he promises that "we will be the generation that reunites mankind with the earth."

The last part of the film is the strongest, though some impatient viewers may find themselves squirming a bit. Here, after having established the economic and political context of food, the substance that unites us all, Olmi leaves behind all dialogue in a lengthy and gorgeous paean to the earth and its potential plenty, as he wordlessly follows the days of a peasant from the preparation of the earth to the lusty enjoyment of what he has grown himself. The myriad close-ups of birds and fruit and bees and sprouting seeds, and finally the heavens themselves, is pure Terrence Malick at his best, and here "Terra Madre" soars. [Jennie Kermode]

Variety (Jay Weissberg) review

Olmos, Edward James



USA  (125 mi)  1992


Washington Post (Rita Kempley) review

“American Me,” a stomach-turning prison drama with James Edward Olmos, doesn't mean to glorify gangsterism, but it does in its own bullheaded way. Set behind the bars of Folsom State Prison, this cruddy, K-Y-jelly-coated look inside the big house depicts the downs of doing time, but it also dignifies the strivings of a self-made crime lord. A eulogy to this Chicano strongman, it often seems more of a primer on ruthless ingenuity than it does a caution against a life of crime.

Olmos, both as director and star, finds a tragic grandeur in the rise and ruin of Santana, a teenager who comes of age inside the California prison system. When sentenced to a juvenile facility, Santana is raped and savaged, but regains his self-esteem by forming a Mexican Mafia with his boyhood friends J.D. (William Forsythe) and Mundo (Pepe Serna) as lieutenants. Upon their transfer to Folsom as adults, the hardened trio become pen kings in charge of drug trafficking, prostitution and other rackets.

Santana, a thinker, poet and advocate of Chicano rights, realizes that his organization has become ethnically cannibalistic, that it finds both fresh soldiers and new clientele in the barrios of East Los Angeles. After he is released from Folsom, he returns home to find his kid brother and his neighbors' sons being destroyed by the gang culture he helped to create. But he hasn't the stomach to work for change and, like some unholy martyr, he sacrifices himself to his criminal peers in a ritual suicide.

Though this is a well-intentioned, well-made movie, it's hard to imagine why a person of sound mind would subject himself to this unrelentingly sordid polemic. For those who have ever wondered how drugs are smuggled into prisons, "American Me" spares few of the anatomical details. The same goes for gang rape and assorted other extracurricular activities, including burning friends alive and strangling relatives. Gross as it is, Olmos the director makes the alternative, a self-sacrificing life on the outside, seem impossibly bland. The scenes inside Folsom are pulsing with a terrible energy that subsides with Santana's return to the domesticity of barrio life.

That's not to say that the conclusions of screenwriters Floyd Mutrux and Desmon Nakano lack validity. It's pathetic, for instance, that Santana cannot consummate a romantic relationship with a neighbor (Evelina Fernandez) because he has no experience whatsoever with women. Unfortunately Olmos, as a first-time director, seems equally ill-equipped at conveying intimacy.

American Me  Despair in the Barrio, by Carmen Huaco-Nuzum from Jump Cut, June 1993


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Frank R.A.J. Maloney review


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DVD Talk (Matthew Hinkley) dvd review [2/5] [HD-DVD Version]


Fulvue Drive-in dvd review [HD-DVD Version]  Nicholas Sheffo


Variety review


Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [3.5/5]


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]


The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review


DVDBeaver dvd review  Yunda Eddie Feng


Omirbayev, Darezgan



Kazakhstan  (90 mi)  2012


Crime and punishment in Kazakhstan: Student first-look review | Sight ...  Geoff Andrew at Sight & Sound, May 15, 2012

After A Prophet, you might justifiably have expected Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone to have been the most impressive film of the second day of Cannes press screenings. But that particular redemption drama screened to a very mixed reception, and while I was certainly to be found at neither end of the critical spectrum, for me today’s most satisfying movie was undoubtedly Student, by Darezhan Omirbayev.

It’s more than a decade since the Kazakhstani director’s The Road (also in the Un Certain Regard strand) met with a warm reception from the Cannes critics, but the new film shows he hasn’t lost his capacity to combine simplicity of method with subtlety of resonance. Inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, it’s just as much concerned with redemption as the Audiard movie, but in its own quiet way is rather more persuasive. About an impoverished, lonely and almost catatonically shy philosophy student who commits a fatal robbery and only gradually comes to see the full error of his ways, the film is often reminiscent (in its lighting, colour schemes, low-key acting style and pacing) of Aki Kaurismäki’s version of the same novel, though for the most part without the Finn’s trademark deadpan humour.

Indeed, with its pared-back, taciturn, almost Bressonian directness, Student might even seem like a rather naïve take on the Dostoyevsky theme, were it not for Omirbayev using a couple of scenes of philosophy lectures and some judiciously chosen clips playing on the student’s landlady’s television to add depth to the theme of responsibility and ethics; how are we to regard the student’s actions given the nature/nurture debate and the changes that have overtaken Kazakhstan in recent times? Such considerations are mercifully never hammered home but simply included as part of the film’s overall fabric, as material for us to think about should we wish.

While it would undoubtedly be wrong to make great claims for Omirbayev’s film, it certainly doesn’t outlast its welcome and fulfils its admittedly modest ambitions. That’s surely quite enough to be going on with, and more than could be said for Lou Ye’s Mystery, the somewhat murky tale of marital infidelity and suspicious death that served as the opening film for the Un Certain Regard strand.

Cannes 2012. Darezhan Omirbaev's "Student"  Daniel Kasman at Mubi, May 19, 2012

You cannot look away from Darezhan Omirbaev's Student, as you can't look away from any of the Kazakh director's films, for each and every shot is quietly but powerfully charged. It always seems a minute charge until a simple shot's condensation of narrative expression and emotional nuance sneaks up on you. In this new film, liberally yet efficiently adapted from Crime and Punishment, the titular student, very poor, very dejected, rides a bus through town; later that afternoon he spontaneously gives away money to the family of an unemployed poet; finally, we see him walking through the rain, and suddenly: ah! he is so poor that he gave away even his bus fare. It is not a chain of this-and-then-that, but a quiet movement, elliptical and quotidean, asking the audience to read how a nominally unimportant action or insert is, in fact, crucially telling to what's going on in someone's mind, in their life, in the connection between scenes.

Like how 2009's Shuga adapted Anna Karinina down to ninety minutes, Student pares away its source and the world until all that's left is the everyday that speaks volumes, volumes materially, narratively and emotionally. As with Kaïrat, Killer, The Road and Shuga, Omirbayev sees how contemporary social, political and economic life in Kazakhstan “calls up” stories of profound universality which, when stripped to their potent core, become absolutely of their new, specific place and time.

His recent move to adapting Tolstoy, Chekhov (for a Jeonju digital short) and here Dostoyevsky sees him move from genre to literature, taking the central conflicts of these stories and rooting them directly in the now of Kazakhstan, a strange and almost surreal (if not dream-like, as the director's films always are fully integrated with his characters' dreams) way of charting on-going progress by calling back to the past for stories of classic, age-old construct. While Killer saw its hero's downward spiral towards violence as the result of new applications of capitalization in the post-Soviet country—a narrative of the individual losing control in a new world—Student charts the opposite. Its hero isn't finding his way in a new society, he's lamentably stuck in his way, an improverished and seemingly ineffectual youth who begins to feel the new need to act as an individual in what has become an unfair world of gross class-wealth disparity between individuals. In response to the bankers and playboys roaming the streets in Range Rovers adorned with gorgeous female passengers and pumping club music while he sleeps in a cramped basement apartment, cannot afford the rent and is lectured to on social Darwinism at school, the student decides to act upon the world violently. There is no policeman in this adaptation; the stone-faced student is the film's center and renders it the most desolate and anguished of Omirbaev's works, intent on the anguish of the young man who sees action against the world as the only valid response to social, material impotence.

Yet, in a typically surprising revelation from the director, after the boy's mother appears in a dream she actually shows up at his apartment, friendly and warm, and we see, for a moment, that the clouded view of his life up til now was but a small picture, subjectively honed down from a more complex reality. These surprises are common in Student, in which nominally incidental elements in another film, like a head laid on a pillow, a bus ride past office buildings, or the reaching into a purse, tremble with longing, suspense and mystery. For the first time in Omirbaev's films dissolves separate scenes, which, along with his characteristic dream sequences—which are dream-like but not dreamy, so they resemble the look and feel of the rest of the film, until a detail gives away the irreality—subjectivize the film's rich but shy emotional core, which seems to count grievances fit to burst, only to tread a path, uphill, collecting more everyday actions and appearances—like the poet's daughter, and the student's mother—that shine a light from the world outside the student's head.

This "outside" is perhaps triumphant over all, as it is what contains the poetry, pith and surprises of the narrative's clean path following the student. The world of the film is not limited to his vision, only interpreted and impaired by it; this materialist filmmaker, whose cinema is always rooted in the reality of the filming, objects and locations, the importance of where people live, work, drive, grow up, nevertheless makes his films so much about perception of this same world, and perception's limits, expanses and reveries. For a long time, Student is nearly a nightmare, sometimes dryly funny (everyone's television seems either to be playing popular garbage or images of conflict, including the assassination of JFK; when a Kazakh documentary comes on television, no one is watching it) before the hero inadvertently realizes there's a difference between acting upon and acting for, taking something on himself instead of putting it to others. And here, marvelously, at the end, dream and the reality of the narrative overlap and never are clarified, creating a profoundly moving ending of questioning, at once hopeful and despairing, one that sees a tremendous significant even in small dreams, if that is all one has for now.


Two of Omirbaev's features are playing worldwide on MUBI and are highly recommended: Killer (1998) and The Road (2001).

Budd Wilkins at Cannes from The House Next Door, May 18, 2012


DAILY | Cannes 2012 | Darezhan Omirbayev’s STUDENT »  David Hudson at Cannes from Fandor, May 19, 2012


Stephen Dalton at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 19, 2012


Leslie Felperin at Cannes from Variety


Ophuls, Marcel


Marcel Ophüls - Harvard Film Archive  (excerpt)

A master of the grand-scale documentary, Marcel Ophüls has crafted a compelling body of work that questions the nature of truth, history, and testimony. The German-born Ophüls came as a youth to Hollywood when his father, famed director Max Ophüls, was forced to leave Germany and, eventually, France. Receiving an education at Hollywood High and later at Berkeley, Ophüls returned to France and began his filmmaking career as an assistant to such directors as John Huston, Julien Duvivier, and Anatole Litvak. After producing some unremarkable fiction works and working for French and German television, Ophüls turned his attention to the production of his acclaimed indictment of French collaboration with the Nazis, The Sorrow and The Pity. Since that time, he has continued to employ the documentary form not simply to record events but to interrogate the core of some of history’s most problematic social and political issues.

All-Movie Guide  Sandra Brennan

German director Marcel Ophuls, the son of famed director Max Ophuls, has continued his father's legacy of films centering on oppression and prejudice. Recognized for his hard-hitting documentaries, Ophuls is best known for his internationally-acclaimed, award-winning film The Sorrow and the Pity (1970), a provocative French film that chronicled events in Nazi occupied France. It also examined the ways in which some locals in the town of Clemont-Ferrand collaborated with the Germans at that time, which led it to be banned from French TV until 1981, as it was considered too disturbing. The German born Ophuls came to the U.S. with his exiled father where he attended high school in Hollywood. He then went on to study at Occidental College, Los Angeles; the University of California, Berkeley; and at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1951, while still in France, he became an assistant for filmmakers Julien Duvivier, John Huston, and Anatole Litvak. He also began working in German and French television. In 1962, he made an unremarkable directorial debut with the anthology film, Love at Twenty. Following the success of The Sorrow and the Pity, Ophuls continued to produce historical documentaries on a wide variety of social issues. Beyond directing, he also acted and wrote magazine articles for periodicals such as American Film. In addition, he served on the board of the French Filmmakers Society. He has also lectured at American universities. In 1988 he made Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, which won that year's Oscar for best documentary and the International Critics Prize at Cannes.

Writings and interviews with Marcel Ophuls


Marcel Ophuls - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia


Oscar Site Biography


"Marcel Ophuls"  profile by the Austrian Film Museum


Marcel Ophuls — MacArthur Foundation  bio


Marcel Ophüls  NNDB bio


Marcel Ophüls - Overview - MSN Movies  bio page


Marcel Ophüls - Movies, Bio and Lists on MUBI


Personal Histories, Collective Shame | News | The Harvard Crimson  Alan Heppel, October 20, 1972


The French Occupation and the Jews | News | The Harvard Crimson  Jonathan Zeitlin, May 23, 1975 


'The Memory of Justice': An Exchange | by Marcel Ophuls | The New ...  Letter to the Editors of The New York Review of Books, March 17, 1977


THE OBSESSION OF MARCEL OPHULS - The Washington Post  March 15, 1987


"Marcel Ophuls on Barbie: Reopening Wounds of War"    James M. Markham from The New York Times, October 2, 1988


VERTIGO | The Troubles We've Seen - Close-Up Film Centre   James Leahy, Winter 1994


1995 IDA Career Achievement Award: Marcel Ophuls | International ...  Jon Hofferman from The International Documentary Association, November 1, 1995


The Sorrow and the Pity | The Nation  Robert Hatch, January 9, 2009


BFI | Sight & Sound | DVD: Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of ...  Nick James from BFI Sight and Sound, January 2011


Dialogues on the Cinema | The New Yorker    On a recent book release, “Dialogues sur le cinema,” about two dialogues, one from 2002, the other from 2009—between Jean-Luc Godard and Marcel Ophüls, by Richard Brody, January 29, 2012


Marcel Ophüls and Jean-Luc Godard: The St-Gervais Meeting ...  Talking Pictures, May 4, 2012


ARTIST IN FOCUS: Marcel Ophuls | Diagonal Thoughts  March 30, 2013


Cannes review: Marcel Ophüls puts his memoirs on film in "Ain't ...  Ben Kenigsberg from the Ebert site, May 17, 2013


Marcel Ophüls: Ain't Misbehavin'? – Point of View Magazine  Martin Delisle, November 11, 2013


Marcel Ophuls and the Great Big Blank: Montreal International ...  Lesley Chow from The Bright Lights Film Journal, February 3, 2014


'Ain't Misbehavin” Review: Marcel Ophuls on Himself | Variety  Ronnie Scheib, February 17, 2014


Marcel Ophuls, Director of 'The Sorrow and the Pity,' Wants to Tell ...    Marcel Ophuls, Director of ‘The Sorrow and the Pity,’ Wants to Tell Israelis Some ‘Unpleasant Truths,’ by Robert Mackey from The New York Times, December 10, 2014


'Racist, fascist bullshit'-- Marcel Ophuls exposes Islamophobia in Israel  Philip Weiss from MondoWeiss, December 11, 2014


Marcel Ophüls' Memory of Justice and other documentaries - World ...  Hiram Lee from The World Socialist Web Site, February 21, 2015


Famed Holocaust documentarian tackles the occupation in new film ...  Lisa Alcalay Klug from Haaretz, November 19, 2015


some old pictures I took: Marcel Ophuls  Rick McGinnis, March 6, 2017




Marcel Ophuls | Jewish Currents  Lawrence Bush, March 25, 2017


Some Came Running: Some scattered and possibly not very useful ...  Glenn Kenny, April 20, 2017


Marcel Ophuls's 'Memory of Justice,' No Longer Just a Memory - The ...  The New York Times, April 21, 2017


The four-and-a-half-hour Nazi documentary you can't afford to miss ...  Jordan Hoffman from The Times of Israel, April 23, 2017


Two Prescient Films About the Memory of the Holocaust | The New ...  Richard Brody from The New Yorker, April 24, 2017


Film festival to honor documentarian Marcel Ophuls — Jewish Journal  Avishay Artsy, May 24, 2017


THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1969) • Frame Rated  David Bedwell, June 26, 2017


TSPDT - Marcel Ophuls  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


Gerald Peary - interviews - Marcel Ophuls  September, 2000


'Patriotism is a lie' | Film | The Guardian  Stuart Jeffries interview from The Guardian, May 23, 2004


REVISITING THE SORROW AND THE PITY: AN INTERVIEW WITH ...  Andrew Sobanet interview, May 26, 2005 (pdf)


Marcel Ophuls, Ain't Misbehavin | Features | Screen  Andreas Wiseman interview from Screendaily, May 17, 2013


Guest: Andréas-Benjamin Seyfert - "Ophüls: Thoughts on Filmmaking ...  interview with Andréas-Benjamin Seyfert, grandson of Marcel Ophüls, and great grandson of Max Ophüls, from LA Ciné Salon, March 15, 2015


501 Movie Directors: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest Filmmakers


Marcel Ophüls - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


PEAU DE BANANE (Banana Peel)

France  (97 mi)  1963  ‘Scope


Peau de banane (1963)  James Travers from FilmsdeFrance

Cathy, a seductive young woman, decides to take revenge on two crooks, Bontemps and Lachard. These two are responsible for the bankruptcy and ruin of her father, and so she asks Michel, her ex-husband, to give her a helping hand. There is no other solution for them than to become crooks themselves, so they conceive a shady deal with Bontemps on a island in Brittany. The first part of their plan is a success and they leave with a huge sum of money. The second part is to take place in Monte Carlo, where they can expect a dramatic showdown with Lachard...

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

The director of The Sorrow and the Pity and Hotel Terminus isn't exactly known for his lightness of touch, and this 1963 curiosity will cause no one to lament that Marcel Ophüls gave up a career in featherweight crime thrillers for Holocaust documentaries. With Jean-Paul Belmondo as a raffish con artist and Jeanne Moreau as a wronged woman out to avenge her father's death, Ophüls' lumpy souffle shares a bloodline with the French New Wave, but the movie's desperate gear-shifting is more frantic than antic. Three years after Breathless, Belmondo is already coasting on ossified cool, walking through his scenes as if he's left a cigar burning in the wings. Whether he's cooking with a jazz combo or posing as a German scientist, he never alters his permanent sneer. Moreau isn't much better; it's hard to believe Peel hails from the same era as Jules and Jim and Bay of Angels.

Then again, what could they have done? Ophüls' main interest seems to be reinforcing his stars' effortless coolness, throwing them into a series of absurd schemes just so they can look unfazed by them. It's like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with the cast of thousands whittled down to two. Ophüls does his desperate best to inject laughs — at one point, Moreau's henchmen fool a mark into thinking they're calling from a construction site by thumping on a nearby radiator — but the movie's as light as lead.

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

THE SORROW AND THE PITY (Le chagrin et la pitié)                     A                     100

France  Germany  Switzerland  (251 mi)  1969


“One who has not suffered the horrors of an occupying power has no right to judge a nation that has.”

—Sir Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill’s Foreign Secretary, 1940-1945, Prime Minister, Great Britain, 1955-1957


Time Out

An account of the Nazi occupation of France, with particular reference to the town of Clermont-Ferrand, this is an orthodox mixture of contemporary newsreels and present-day interviews. Those questioned include politicians, collaborators, résistants, a French admiral, a Wehrmacht captain, a British secret agent - and of course the man and woman in the street who concentrated on just getting through the thing. The mosaic is comprehensive, the documentation overwhelming, particularly regarding the nature and extent of collaboration. In France, of course, the film was dynamite. Other countries, other generations may - or may not - be in sympathy with Anthony Eden, as he firmly declines to condemn those placed in a predicament which he and his compatriots were spared.

User comments  from imdb Author: Gerald A. DeLuca ( from United States

How truly compelling is "The Sorrow and the Pity," a monumental 4 ½-hour documentary about one of the saddest realities of World War II: the almost placid collaboration of the French with their occupying German conquerors. The movie was created by Marcel Ophüls (son of the great Max Ophüls) and portrays a devastating picture of the collective compromise of morality under duress. We are brought into intimate contact with the times by way of newsreel footage and interviews with present-day survivors of all persuasions as they recall the events of the past, corroborate or contradict others or even themselves. We see the danger that comes with historical amnesia and the refusal to see that there is a potential for great evil as well as great good in all of us. This is a profound movie, and a profoundly disquieting one. It does not substitute facile attitudinizing for intelligence and integrity. It demands that we push the limits of our vision beyond the borders of the screen masking in the theatre. It would be a sorrow and a pity not to see it…and think about its implications for all of us.

Le Chagrin et la pitie - The Sorrow and the Pity - Marcel Ophuls - 1969 ...  James Travers from FilmsdeFrance

By any standards, Le Chagrin et la pitié is a monumental piece of film documentary.  For one thing, it dares to make an objective assessment of one of the most difficult periods in France’s history – the German occupation of that country during World War II.  In addition to being one of the most important documentaries ever made, it is also one of the most compelling and well-made, despite its modest style.

The film combines shockingly frank interviews with players in the drama with archive footage (mainly newsreel excerpts).  Although the film is nominally centred around the town of Clermont-Ferrand, it does go further afield, venturing to Paris, rural France, Germany and London.  Through its very simple documentary style and a plethora of material (not a minute of the film’s four and half hours is wasted), Le Chagrin et la pitié conveys a very real sense of what it must have been like to have lived through the Occupation.  It is a profound, enlightening and thought-provoking piece of work.

The film was directed by Marcel Ophuls (son of the great German film director Max Ophuls) whose investigative documentaries earned him international acclaim.  It was originally commissioned by the French television channel, ORTF, as part of a series of three films about recent French history.  When its producers André Harris and Alain de Sédouy were dismissed from the channel for participating in the political uprisings of May-June 1968, Marcel Ophuls had to turn to a German television company to finish the film.  Ironically, it was with German money that Le Chagrin et la pitié was completed.

When the ORTF refused to broadcast the film, its first public airing was in a small Parisian cinema in April 1971.  The film immediately unleashed a storm of controversy and was condemned vociferously as being unpatriotic.  In particular, many saw it as a direct assault on the government of General de Gaulle, since it significantly diminished the role of the general during World War II.  The film continued to be shown at specialist cinemas and film festivals throughout the world and was nominated for an Academy Award (in the "best feature documentary" category) at the 1972 Oscars.  It was not until 1981 that the film was shown on French television, when it attracted an audience of 15 million viewers.

Le Chagrin et la pitié is a film in two parts.  The first part (L’Effondrement ) shows how a France which was divided politically and socially proved to be an easy conquest for the almighty German war machine.   Fearful of losing their wealth and status, and also seeing fascism as an effective counter to communism, the bourgeoisie offered up no resistance, and, for them at least, life went on much as before.  For the working classes, it was a different story.  With political parties and strikes outlawed, workers’ rights no longer existed and most ordinary people lived under repression.  As the film makes clear, the main concern for most people during the Occupation was simply having enough food to eat.

France was not just divided socially – it was also divided physically.  The northern and western parts of the country were directly controlled by the Nazis, whilst the south was governed from the town of Vichy by a puppet president, Marshal Philippe Pétain, and his prime minister, Pierre Laval.   Most French people seemed prepared to accept the situation and responded positively to Pétain’s trite mantra: Travail, Famille, Patrie.

In the second part of the film (Le Choix), which looks at the last two years of the Occupation, we see how growing distrust and resentment germinated into opposition and created a growing resistance movement.   Whilst scores of French men and women risked their lives to free their country, others became ever more complicit in Nazi activity, denouncing their own neighbours, supporting the anti-Jewish purge and enlisting in the German army.

Most of the material in the film consists of interviews (most of which were conducted by Ophuls), making this a very personal and vivid account of the Occupation.   The recollections of the film’s contributors are obviously tainted by their experiences and, for many, it is apparent that the wounds have yet to heal – in spite of the fact they are recounting events which took place almost thirty years before.  As the accounts are sometimes contradictory and often have a strong personal bias, this patchwork quilt of revelations forms a very complex picture, suggesting that any simple assessment of the Occupation would be both both flawed and unjust.  In an archive clip, Anthony Eden (British Prime Miniser after the war) eloquently states that no one who has not been confronted with the threat of invasion from an overwhelming enemy can condemn the French for their capitulation.  However, it is hard not to be moved by the testimony of some of the film’s contributors and we are ultimately led to cast judgement – not on the French nation as a whole, but on individual men and women who were galvanised to perform acts of great evil, or great good.

By allowing the villains and heroes of the piece to speak freely, the film gives a more graphic and forceful account of events than will ever be divined in any history book or wartime drama.  The film begins with a stomach-churning interview with a high-ranking Nazi officer, who apparently still sees himself as a member of the Super Race and has no qualms of his participation in the Holocaust (to the point of not understanding why his fellow countrymen have such misgivings about the period).   In another chilling interview, aristocrat Christian de la Mazière candidly tells André Harris how, as a young man, he was seduced by fascism and became one of the 7000 Frenchmen to sign up for the Charlemagne division, a special SS unit assigned to the Eastern Front.

On the side of the heroes, a farmer, Louis Grave, gives a solemn personal account of the work he and his brother did for the resistance.  Grave was denounced by a neighbour and ended up in a concentration camp; his bitterness is still apparent 25 years on.  A British spy, Denis Rake, movingly recounts the extreme generosity of ordinary French people he saw whilst he was serving in France; by contrast he received next to no support from the bourgeoisie.   Pierre Mendis-France (who became Prime Minister some time after the war) talks at length about his opposition to the Vichy regime, which led to his imprisonment; he managed to escape to England when he joined the Free French forces.

Surprisingly, there is very little mention of De Gaulle’s movement, La France Libre, which took control of France after the Liberation by the allies in 1944, but which had very little support in France during the Occupation.   De Gaulle claimed that his movement played a key role in the resistance, something which the film seems to take issue with.

The film ends with an archive extract in which popular singer Maurice Chevalier attempts to justify a concert he gave in Nazi Germany.  He claims, in English, and without a great deal of conviction, that he was there not for the benefit of German troops but merely to entertain French prisoners of war.   With brutal irony, this sequence succinctly sums up how much of the French nation must have felt about the Occupation – an overwhelming sense of guilt, self-admonishment and naïve optimism that it could be put behind them and forgotten.  The fact that the many contributors in the film still felt so strongly about events which took place nearly thirty years in the past suggests that the incident could not be so easily swept under the carpet.  It is evident that the wound would take many more decades to heal and, even then, a unpleasant stain would remain, etched into France’s collective memory for generations to come.

The Sorrow and the Pity | The Nation  Robert Hatch, January 9, 2009

Marcel Ophuls documents Vichy France’s shameful collaboration with Nazi Germany.

To attend on succeeding days The Godfather and Marcel Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity is to leap from sprawling triviality to splendor. Ophuls’ picture is opportune—it gives reasonable ground to expect the survival of the often compromised but hitherto persistent spirit of human independence. It is a flame, not a conflagration, because not enough people will fight for it; but once in the recent past, a really determined effort was made to stifle it in circumstances and among people where it did not seem to be very ardently cherished, and yet it survived. That’s a reason for hope.

The film will also probably grow more valuable as the decades pass, because it is a stern, unsparing, but in the end compassionate record of how men and women of three countries, and of the widest possible spectrums of principle and attainment, recalled, after thirty years, a great common experience. The subtitle of the picture is Chronicle of a Town During the Occupation. The town, really a small city, is Clermont-Ferrand in the Massif Central; it was under Fascist domination, first indirectly through Vichy, then by German occupation, from 1939 to 1944. Many citizens of Clermont-Ferrand collaborated; many more merely endured; the Resistance began in the surrounding Auvergne countryside. Now Ophuls and his company of interrogators (they are all of that) persuade these survivors of Hitler’s New Europe to recall what it was like, to reveal what they did, and to judge their much younger selves across a considerable ravine of time.

The honesty is astonishing; the courage even more so—I don’t refer here particularly to the courage of the brave, though it is tonic, but of those who were weak or indifferent or worse, and who now, under the stimulus of this project, have the resolution to define themselves. The film unit travels widely. It visits a German wedding breakfast, the father of the bride, Helmuth Tausend, having been a Wehrmacht captain in Clermont-Ferrand. Herr Tausend comes off badly, though it is not at all certain that he knows it. I get the impression that he was an adequate soldier and decent man when he was intruding on France; but the years have not endowed him with sensitivity. He seems to have thought it a pleasant idea to invite the Frenchmen to the family celebration, and regale them with his memories of himself as a gallant, correct warrior. He talks far too much and no one cuts him oil; it is not merciful, but you feel it is just.

In England the crew talks to a flier who was shot down over Clermont-Ferrand (he remembers that his host got him twenty Gauloise cigarettes a day, and it wasn’t until almost the end of his stay that he found him collecting the butts from the ashtrays at night) and it talks to Anthony Eden. Churchill’s Foreign Secretary explains how events looked at the command level—why, for example, it was thought necessary to destroy a unit of the French fleet, a destruction of men and ships that still occasions incredulity in the cafes of Clermont-Ferrand. He speaks candidly of British shortcomings, but cannot be drawn into a discussion of the behavior of the French. “We were not invaded,” he says, “and we don’t know what it was like.”

The film interpolates war footage (bombing raids, Jewish roundups, Hitler gleeful in Paris) and propaganda (excerpts from few Siiss, contrasts between the “degenerate” French and the “noble” German folk) but always it returns to Clermont-Ferrand and the present. Alexis and Louis Grave are farmers, shrewd, prosperous, caps pulled low over their foreheads and with a look of suppressed amusement on their fat faces. They were Resistance fighters and one of them was shipped to Buchenwald, having been denounced by a neighbor. “What did you think about in the camp,” he is asked. “Food,” he replies. “People who thought about anything else didn’t survive.” He grins. Then he is asked whether he ever looked up that neighbor. “What for?” he replies, and grins again. I think the Grave brothers take it as a great joke that Hitler and his collaborators should have tried to get the better of them; it has kept them in good humor ever since. Most of the men who were in the Resistance seem to have had much the same idea; one of them, asked why he joined the Maquis, says approximately, “The situation was not satisfactory.”

Enough—though I am not gutting the picture; it goes on for better than four hours and I cannot begin to cover the detail. There is Christian de la Mazière, who joined the Waffen SS, fought in Russia and will not let his inquisitor goad him into either apology or anger. I doubt that I would appreciate M. Mazière’s views even today, but I salute him. Emmanuel d’Astier d la Vigerie has a face and hands like those of Cocteau and was a founder of the “Liberation” movement. He was a black sheep anyhow, he says, so it wasn’t so hard. Marcel Verdier is a pharmacist. Like Herr Tansend, he talks a great deal; perhaps because he did so little. But he is a puzzled man, not a complacent one; how did all ,that happen around him, and he took such small notice? A surprising number of the people in Clermont-Ferrand seen to feel that way—I recall particularly two schoolteachers—not guilty, but cheated.

I must stop, but readers will experience this sane compulsion to relive the film; it is not a long picture, for all its hours—it is mesmeric. And that happens partly because of its content, partly because of its artistry. It is a masterpiece of editing, cutting back and forth from country to country, among groups and individuals, to weave a tight-grained and marvelously animated tapestry of an event that holds utterly different people in the meshes of a single experience. Pierre Mendès-France, who was jailed in Clermont-Ferrand until he went over the wall and joined the Free French in London, is in a sense the spokesman for the whole work. His wit, his intelligence, his powers of discrimination and his forbearance accept and hold together all the colors of the fabric. He is a man without illusions or despair; he does not forgive and he does not condemn. He gets on with the present, strengthened by the past, and the French are crazy not to make full use of him.

If there is a message, a theme, in the picture, my mind is not sufficiently synoptic to define it. Ophuls is driven y the hunger of a good reporter to master the facts of a most complex event and present them so that we who were not there can read it intelligently. He is neutral, with one proviso: he insists that you acknowledge the importance of the individual, every individual. It is not a matter of praise or blame, but of recognition. That is why The Sorrow and the Pity, whose dark base, after all, is set in suffering and death, is nevertheless a celebration of life.

About the English-language print—I saw the picture first in Paris and said that it could not be done; impossible to subtitle a film that contains thousands of words of conversation, and dubbing would destroy the authenticity. I was wrong. The producers use some titles, but principally they employ the “voice over” technique familiar to anyone who has heard a UN debate on television. However, these voices are chosen tactfully and with the most accurate ear for personality, to accord with the appearance and quality of the person speaking: The “match” is so excellent that you come from the theatre under the impression that by some miracle you suddenly understand the most rapid and colloquial French and German. I cannot estimate what hours of search and rehearsal went into these entirely “natural” graftings; they are a technical achievement worthy of Ophuls’ stupendous work.

The Sorrow and the Pity - OoCities  28-page film profile (pdf)


On “The Sorrow and the Pity” | commentary  Stanley Hoffman, September 1, 1972


Personal Histories, Collective Shame | News | The Harvard Crimson  Alan Heppel, October 20, 1972


The French Occupation and the Jews | News | The Harvard Crimson  Jonathan Zeitlin, May 23, 1975 


Truth and Consequences - footenotes  Time magazine review by Timothy Foote, March 27, 1972


Marcel Ophuls and the Great Big Blank: Montreal International ...  Lesley Chow from The Bright Lights Film Journal, February 3, 2014


World Socialist Web Site  Richard Phillips


The Sorrow and the Pity Review | CultureVulture Tom Block


Electric Sheep Magazine [Peter Momtchiloff] 


The Sorrow and the Pity | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist


The Anatomy of Memory | Village Voice  Leslie Camhill, May 9, 2000


Le Chagrin et la Pitie - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications  Roy Armes from Film Reference


THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1969) • Frame Rated  David Bedwell, June 26, 2017


Blueprint: Review [David Brook]


The Sorrow and the Pity, Part 1 -  Felicea Feaster, also an identical article is seen here:  The Sorrow and the Pity, Part 2 -


The Sorrow and the Pity | Film at The Digital Fix  Gary Couzens


DVD Savant Review  Glenn Erickson


DVD Town [Yunda Eddie Feng]


digitallyobsessed - DVD review  Dale Dobson


The DVD Journal: The Sorrow and the Pity  DK Holm


The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls, 1969) - Blu-ray review by ...  Dave Lancaster from Cinemas Online


SBCC Film Reviews » Blog Archive » The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel ...  Byron Potau


Review: Le Chagrin et la Pitie by Marcel Ophuls | Film Quarterly  only first page available, by Michael Silvermanm, Summer 1972


User comments  from imdb Author: Steven Rubio from Berkeley, California


REVISITING THE SORROW AND THE PITY: AN INTERVIEW WITH ...  Andrew Sobanet interview, May 26, 2005 (pdf)


TV Guide review


BBCi - Films  Jamie Russell


The Sorrow and the Pity | Reviews | Film  Xan Brooks, May 21, 2004


Top 10 documentaries | Film | The Guardian  Listed at #5, November 12, 2013


A Look at 'The Sorrow and the Pity' of France in World War II - latimes  Donald Liebenson


The Sorrow and the Pity Movie Review (1972) | Roger Ebert


FILM; The Long Shadow of 'The Sorrow and the Pity' - The New York ...  A.H. Weiler from The New York Times [Gary W. Tooze]


DVDBeaver Blu-ray [Gary Tooze]



USA  Great Britain  Germany  France  (278 mi)  1978


Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr) capsule review

Marcel Ophuls's four-and-a-half-hour documentary (1976) uses the Nuremberg trials as a starting point for an investigation of the ideals of justice and the failures of their execution—abstract ideas that Ophuls makes vital through his remarkable montage technique, intercutting newsreel footage and contemporary interviews. Ophuls abandons the usual voice-of-God stance of the documentarian; this is a personal search for meaning, with the author insisting on his own failures of understanding. An intense, demanding experience.

The Memory of Justice, directed by Marcel Ophüls | Film review  Time Out

An investigation of the impact of the Nuremberg trials on the German conscience, and a study of the implications of the moral and legal principles established there for events like Hiroshima and Vietnam, The Memory of Justice operates by steadily drawing the viewer into a situation that is forever expanding, as new ramifications and contexts are found by Ophüls in the course of his interviews and in the use he makes of library footage. The film is, accordingly, as important for its method of investigation as for the facts it reveals. In contrast to the tight narrative and fixed viewpoint of the run-of-the-mill TV documentary, Ophüls' film is so structured as to force the viewer to involve himself in the arguments presented in the actual process of watching the film, thus transforming a passive viewing into an active reading. (Originally broadcast in two parts, 'Nuremberg and the Germans' and 'Nuremberg and Other Places'.

Festivals: New York 1976 - Film Comment   James McCourt, November/December 1976

A masterpiece, and a triumph as well, apparently, of guts over treachery in the industry: appropriate happenstance. This film tackles thematic material of familiar enormity which has been routinely, politely, civilly neglected for too long. Encountered and restructured by an artist of such patience and methodical urgency as Marcel Ophuls is, this material—the congruence between the routine institutionalized evil of the last two successive political generations of Western mankind—is now a matter of urgent concern in the public record, and demands to be viewed and reviewed. Sentient persons who avoid the task (of sitting and looking for four saturated hours at pity, terror, valor, despair, outrage, courage, and torment,) are to be counseled. Two moments out of the four hours:

Marie-Claude Vaillany-Couturier, now a French senator, recalling her testimony at Nuremberg, given as a witness-survivor of Auschwitz. The footage of the testimony. The freeze at the moment when, leaving the witness stand, she turns to face the authors of her torment and the torment of those millions she represented. The realization, recalled thirty years later, that they looked like rather ordinary men. (“I really don’t know what I expected.”)

Louise and Robert Ransom, two American parents, recalling their son’s death in Vietnam, and re-creating on camera, in interview, the dawning of their realization that that death was futile and brought no honor.

In each of these moments, as again and again throughout the film, Ophuls shows people becoming actors in the noblest sense. They are playing themselves as instruments, carrying themselves beyond themselves, enlarging momentarily, becoming, without a trace of self-regard, significant. It is because Ophuls is pensive rather than aggressive in his approach, and has edited in the small silences between the great statements, that these actors become all mankind. The tormentors and the tormented, equally attended, are here in the flesh as never before since the furious events depicted occurred.

Festivals: Il Cinema Ritrovato - Film Comment  Genevieve Yue, July 20, 2015

Marcel Ophüls deals with the issue of legacy in ways both personal and political in The Memory of Justice (75), a sprawling four-and-a-half-hour documentary about the Nuremberg Trials, shown in a restored digital version. The film is engrossing, unpredictable and even at times punchy. For his interviews, Ophüls aimed both high and low, balancing footage of several high-profile Nazis that had been on trial, various lawyers, and concentration camp inmates who testified, with man-on-the-street questions as to the whereabouts of the convicted Nazi doctor Herta Oberhauer, and a discussion about the Holocaust among the fleshy patrons of a German sauna. At its best, the film produces a compelling sense of history, establishing a provocative link between WWII and the then-contemporary Vietnam War, two major events not usually conceived alongside each other, despite their historical proximity. The second part stresses this point, which is crystallized in one mind-boggling scene where Telford Taylor, the Chief Council for the US prosecution team at Nuremberg, stands next to Joan Baez in Hanoi, responding to a reporter’s questions about the bombing of a hospital. Through editing, Ophüls stages a number of memorable confrontations: between Taylor and Daniel Ellsberg, between the circumspect parents of a deceased Vietnam deserter and a stridently patriotic widow, between a German mother and her radicalized daughter, the Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld. Most powerful is the pairing of archival footage from the Nuremberg Trials with the account of Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, a French resistance fighter interned at Auschwitz, who, after testifying, stared down Karl Dönitz, Albert Speer, and Hermann Göring as she walked past them. Despite the graininess of the black-and-white footage, the defiance of the then-young woman is electrifying.

Ambition unfortunately gets the better of Ophüls—there’s simply too much to tell, and the film’s focus loses coherence when it veers into the history of Native American extermination or the Algerian War. Some footage seems included only because Ophüls couldn’t resist a great story, as when we hear the admittedly amazing account by a French deserter about a six-day journey across the desert with an escaped prisoner. As a record of its own time, The Memory of Justice depicts a moment when all historical events seemed alive and connected, and Ophüls himself is right there, bespeckled and balding, eager to document it all. He was, unfortunately, unable to make it to Bologna for the screening. During the film’s introduction, programmer Cecilia Cenciarelli explained that she received a fax from him describing how he had gotten in his car with his dog and begun the drive to Italy. Then another fax came in: it was “too bloody hot” and he had turned around. “Maybe next year,” he said.

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4.5/5]

Marcel Ophuls's THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is a massive, confounding, but transfixing consideration of the definitions (or indefiniteness) of justice and responsibility in the post-Holocaust world.

The film is divided into two parts. "Part One: Nuremberg and the Germans" is a description and analysis of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, in which leaders of the Third Reich were tried for crimes against humanity. Representatives of four nations--the United States, Great Britain, France and the USSR--presided over the trials, acting as judges and prosecutors. Throughout the film's first part, lengthy excerpts of Nuremberg trial footage are intercut with contemporary interviews conducted by Ophuls. Among those interviewed are key Nuremberg prosecutors, including Telford Taylor, Hartley Shawcross, and Edgar Faure, of the United States, Great Britain, and France, respectively. The three relate how the trials were organized and how they proceeded. When pushed by Ophuls, they reflect on the moral obtuseness that led to the atrocities and on what qualified their respective nations to pass judgment over the Germans. They also recall that they believed the justice served at the trials would lead towards a just world, in which nations would work together to ensure that such horrors never again occur.

Ophuls also interviews leading German figures of the Nazi era, including Albert Speer and Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz. While Doenitz denies knowledge of atrocities, Speer, when confronted by Ophuls with hs own statements of the time, coldly acknowledges his complicity. An American psychologist who tested the defendants (among them Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess) is also interviewed. He describes their contempt for the trials and complete lack of remorse for their actions. In other interviews, German civilians who lived during the period, express either indifference, denial, or guilt. An elderly fisherman expresses nostalgia for the era. A concentration camp survivor who testified at the trials recalls the shock of coming to a war-ravaged Nuremberg, and German university students debate the degree of responsibility their generation holds for past German crimes. Toward the end of Part One, Speer states that the German people cannot be held accountable for the actions of their government.

The first section of "Part Two: Nuremberg and Other Places" concerns artists who fled Germany while the Nazis were in power, among them film director Max Ophuls, Marcel's father. The daughter of actor Franz Kortner, who returned to Germany after the war, tells of how happy her father was to come back to his homeland, and how well received he was by the Germans.

The acceptance of Nazism by Germans is analyzed, viewed as having resulted from economic devastation and inequitable distribution of wealth. The importance of anti-Semitism in the rise of the Nazis is also examined, Speer confirming that he felt there were "problems with Jewish influence" on Germany. Ophuls continues to press the three prosecutors on of the question of the Allies having moral authority over the Germans. In turn, he asks Taylor, Shawcross, and Faure to compare German war crimes to the American bombing of Hiroshima and involvement in Vietnam, the bombing of Dresden and Hamburg, and torture the French military allegedly inflicted upon Algerians. Taylor admits that the comparisons have some merit but are not entirely apt. Shawcross and Faure, however, deny similarities, Shawcross declaring that the German government bears responsibility for the retaliatory bombing of its civilian cities. Ophuls speaks with witnesses to criminal actions committed by American and French military personnel, and various interviewees, including a Vietnam War widow and draft evaders, consider the culpability of their government.

The Nuremberg trials resulted in light sentences for those convicted, as the US, Great Britain, and France recognized that some of the defendants could provide valuable intelligence about the Soviets. After serving their time, several defendants became wealthy in German industry. The camp survivor who testified at Nuremberg recalls that when she finally glimpsed the German leaders at the trial, she was amazed that they seemed like anyone else.

Violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who is Jewish and chooses to play in contemporary Germany, states that torture is as international as anything else in today's world, and that everyone must work to combat universal evil, which is no longer confined to borders.

A monumental, frustrating, and often brilliant work, THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is at once a comprehensive historical text and a very personal piece of filmmaking. From the precredit sequence onward, there's no doubting that this exhaustively researched and highly informative documentary is the work of Marcel Ophuls. Coming off the success of THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1971), Ophuls seems to have wanted to go further, to get beyond an examination of how people behave in times of crisis and into an analysis of what is learned from those times. If possible, THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is more ambitious than THE SORROW AND THE PITY, and while it is less trenchant and probably less successful overall, it is no less remarkable an undertaking.

The cinematic equivalent of a thesis, THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE begins by putting forth the proposition that atrocities such as those committed under the Third Reich could occur again, in any place, despite the avowals from "responsible" nations at Nuremberg that they would be vigilant in preventing such horrors from ever being repeated. In presenting his argument, Ophuls, as usual, has assembled an extraordinary selection of interviews, drawing testimony from both those who have shaped history and those who have been victimized by it. His skill as an interviewer unparalleled, Ophuls, through his witnesses, minutely re-creates the immediate post-war era, describing in detail not only what occurred, but the moods that were felt on all sides. He qualifies his speakers' comments, confirming or casting doubt on their accuracy, either by following a comment with another speaker's dissenting statement, or with archival footage that vouches for or flatly contradicts them.

Taken collectively, the interviews, as Ophuls has conducted and arranged them, are the basis of a compelling and reasoned analysis. In working to verify his hypothesis, Ophuls offers strong evidence that the lessons of Nuremberg have either been forgotten or ignored, or were never learned in the first place. It is not only, he seems to say, that such presumably civilized nations as the United States and France may themselves be guilty of war crimes, but that there is an oblique (or perhaps deliberate) unwillingness on the part of governments to even consider their guilt. As Telford Taylor explains, America "tries to attain the higher values," but Ophuls points to the My Lai Massacre, its cover-up by military officials, and the failure of the American government to properly assess responsibility or punishment as damning proof that the "higher values" America seeks have been very arbitrarily defined, for they simultaneously permit and then explain away such outrages as My Lai.

Sometimes, Ophuls makes his points through rich irony. For example, Hartley Shawcross, who believes steadfastly that Britain had moral authority over Germany at Nuremberg, is introduced with an identifying graphic that reads, "Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland." Elsewhere, Ophuls elicits from Faure, while pressing him on whether he thinks that French military action in Algiers warrants a Nuremberg-like investigation, the declaration that a state should not be held responsible for the actions of some of its people--an incredible twist on Speer's statement about the accountability of an individual under a government.

In attempting to cover such vast intellectual terrain, however, Ophuls lets the film go afield at times. Some of the interviews seem superfluous, and have the effect of diluting rather than strengthening Ophuls's speculations. Sections of the film that address events in Vietnam, for example, include commentary from Daniel Ellsberg (of The Pentagon Papers fame) which adds virtually nothing to the intelligent discourse generated from interviews with Taylor, witnesses to American war crimes, and other people whose relevance is clear. The film also loses focus with the inclusion of seemingly extraneous material, such as Joan Baez singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" in German, or a sequence in which a small group of contemporary Germans--among them Jews--lounge naked inside a sauna. These digressive elements unnecessarily cloud an already very complicated film.

While the density of THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE may prove frustrating, this cannot, given Ophuls's intent, be considered a flaw. Nor can the fact that Ophuls finds no concrete answers to many questions he raises. The film is undeniably ponderous at times, but one can only admire Ophuls for sacrificing facility to intellectual integrity. In seeking to make sense of why terror continues to be inflicted in the name of imposing "principles" (as Taylor terms it), Ophuls has put together a study that is as fascinating as it is challenging. THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is persuasive as argument, and extraordinary as filmmaking. (Extensive nudity, adult situations.)

The Memory of Justice | commentary   Marcel Ophüls letter to the editor, with replies, March 1, 1977


'The Memory of Justice': An Exchange | by Marcel Ophuls | The New ...  Letter to the Editors of The New York Review of Books, March 17, 1977


The Holocaust | commentary - Commentary Magazine  Claire Huchet-Bishop letter to editor, May 1, 1977


Marcel Ophüls' Memory of Justice and other documentaries - World ...  Hiram Lee from The World Socialist Web Site, February 21, 2015


The four-and-a-half-hour Nazi documentary you can't afford to miss ...  Jordan Hoffman from The Times of Israel, April 23, 2017


Two Prescient Films About the Memory of the Holocaust | The New ...  Richard Brody from The New Yorker, April 24, 2017


Some Came Running: Some scattered and possibly not very useful ...  Glenn Kenny, April 20, 2017


The Brooklyn Rail: Steve Macfarlane   October 05, 2015


Buy cinema tickets for The Memory of Justice | 2015 BFI London Film ...


Marcel Ophüls' war crimes doc 'The Memory of Justice' gets new life ...  Kenneth Turan from The LA Times, April 13, 2017


The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review


Marcel Ophuls's 'Memory of Justice,' No Longer Just a Memory - The ...  The New York Times, April 21, 2017



France  Germany  USA  (267 mi)  1988


Time Out

Ophuls' documentary about the Nazi war criminal, expelled from Bolivia and returned to France for trial, is a mass of interview and newsreel spliced and juxtaposed to produce a narrative which is also a moral and historical record which is also a set of questions which can be reduced here to two crunchers: who are you to judge? what would you have done? The film rarely flags, despite copious location shifts and languages and subtitles which run the gamut and the gauntlet. From wartime France to fascist Bolivia, from boyhood admirers to aggrieved business partners and victims of the Nazis' butchery turning almost as much upon each other as their persecutor, the film is as much about selective memory and the vagaries of moral responsibility as a story of one man who affected so many, and who managed to work for not only the SS but also the Allies, the Bolivian arms runners and the romantically conceived Bolivian navy, and return to Lyons at the age of 71 more sprightly and confident than most of the people whose lives he wrecked. Superb.

TV Guide

HOTEL TERMINUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KLAUS BARBIE slowly but surely indicts the international community of complying with WWII criminals. Director Marcel Ophuls uses the charmed existence of the shrewd but sociopathic Nazi Barbie as a focus for his stinging documentary-essay.

During the war, Klaus Barbie became known as the "Butcher of Lyon" for the cruel and ruthless terror he inflicted upon his victims, mostly French Jews. During Barbie's belated 1984 trial for war crimes, Ophuls interviews dozens of people who remember the man and the monster. In France, Raymond Levy and his pool-playing friends disagree on the merits of the trial; some feel its overdue, others feel the time for retribution has passed. In Barbie's hometown of Udler, Germany, the citizens remember him fondly. But back in France, Simone Lagrange recalls being the sole survivor of Barbie's order to arrest, deport, and murder a group of children from a farm in Izieu.

Through interviews with French Resistance leaders, Nazi leaders, and war historians, Ophuls establishes that Barbie, as head Gestapo agent in Lyon, was also responsible for the betrayal, arrest, and murder of Jean Moulin, a French Underground leader. While Barbie escaped punishment for this and other crimes after the war, Rene Hardy, a traitor to the Underground, was imprisoned. After the war, Barbie helped run a black market in Germany, then escaped to South America with the help of American CIC agents who saw him as an ally in their fight against Communism. One American sergeant, Robert Taylor, fails to explain why he hired Barbie, knowing what he did about his background, while another, Erhard Darbringhaus, recalls the backlash against him for exposing Barbie's past.

The second half of the film concentrates on Barbie's life in South America leading up to his trial. Former US politicians, like intelligence officer Benjamin Shute, barely recall how or why the US shielded Barbie while he lived in Bolivia under the alias Altmann. But Journalist Mirna Murillo vividly remembers Barbie as a cruel man, even after the war, interrogating and murdering people who interfered with his arms dealing for Bolivia's General Banzer. Barbie's friend and former bodyguard, Alvaro De Castro, softens the harsh portrait of Barbie and insists he had no American connection, yet even he admits his boss spoke admiringly of the Nazis, Mengele, and Eichmann.

Following a government coup, Barbie moved from Bolivia to Peru, where he became a world-traveling arms smuggler. Finally, in 1971, the French press learned of his existence and ran articles exposing him. Beate and Serge Klarsfeld pursued Barbie until French authorities half-heartedly extradited him for a trial. Yet, the charges were dropped, with the prosecutors citing a lack of evidence. The Klarsfelds continued their efforts, however, and Barbie was finally brought to trial in France in 1984, where he denied his involvement in the war. With the help of a wily lawyer, Jacques Verges, Barbie maintained his innocence, but the French prosecutors won their case and Barbie was sent away to a life sentence. Nevertheless, the trial was criticized on all sides for its lack of focus and definition. After the trial, Ms. Lagrange remembers a courageous French woman, Mme. Boutout, who nearly saved her from the Nazi torture. Ophuls dedicates the film to the memory of this woman.

Like the landmark SORROW AND THE PITY (1970), HOTEL TERMINUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KLAUS BARBIE clearly establishes a pervasive guilt about the Holocaust. There are "good guys," but they are not the people usually depicted in the war film genre--e.g., the French Resistance fighters, the American soldiers and politicians; rather, the "good guys" (like American agent Erhard Darbringhaus and French Resistance members Lucie and Raymond Aubrac) are those few who have been willing to speak out against Barbie and his cohorts. Otherwise, most of the supposed Allies represented here either barely remember events (like feeble ex-US intelligence officer Benjamin Shute), or protest Barbie's trial (like Albert Rossett, a slick Jean-Marie Le Pen "National Front" supporter), or outright apologize for protecting him through the years (like seedy American agent Eugene Kolb). Even some of the intellectuals, like Germany author Gunther Grass, seem a little muddled in their attitude toward Barbie and the trial.

Unlike his approach in THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1972), however, Ophuls places himself much more often into the frame as the interviewer/interrogator, making HOTEL TERMINUS a more personal work. His frustrations with the lies and nonanswers--especially the refrain that the war was "over 40 years ago"--are recorded onscreen, and he even shows his bitter sense of humor, in scenes alone where he mocks his less cooperative interview subjects (interestingly, he also shakes hands with thuggish Barbie aide Alvaro De Castro, forcing one to wonder if he would also shake hands with Barbie, if he had had the chance to interview him). The personal becomes political for Ophuls in his dismaying discovery that Barbie's lawyer, Jacques Verges, an advocate for left-wing causes, was really a sly politician, paid off by an anti-Semitic financier.

If anything, Ophuls perfects the interview and editing techniques of THE SORROW AND THE PITY, while building his case deliberately but forcefully, as was also the case in Claude Lanzmann's SHOAH (1985). (Appropriately, Ophuls interviews Lanzmann, though only briefly.) While Ophuls privileges the victims and eyewitnesses to Barbie's atrocities, he refuses to romanticize their suffering (a la typical Holocaust melodramas), and he neatly reinforces their accounts by crosscutting their poignant and believable testimony with the evasive and hypocritical words of Barbie's apologists. Thus, lively debates occur between individuals who never meet (or would ever want to meet): Lise Lesevre, a torture victim, and one of Barbie's friends, a Peruvian neighbor; the cowardly Sgt. Robert Taylor, who hired Barbie for the CIC, and the heroic Erhard Darbringhaus, who exposed him; Ivo Omrcamin, who helped many a Nazi move to South America, and Elizabeth Holtzman, the US prosecutor of Nazi war criminals; and Francois Hemmerle, a French Resistance turncoat who exploited Jews, and Rene Tavernier, the French poet.

As the film's title suggests, Ophuls is more attuned than ever to dark irony: several of his subjects condone Barbie while sitting in front of Christmas trees (during the Kolb interview, he cuts to the angels on the trees); and just as the phantom image of the elusive and rarely seen Barbie pervades the lengthy film, so does Ophuls's use of a German youth chorus song, which is eerie in its sweetness and light. The rough cinema verite approach (and the occasional "60 Minutes"-style ambush interview) masks a highly sophisticated-- albeit world-weary--understanding of the people and events. Ophuls errs only in not providing the uninitiated viewer with more facts about the war itself before plunging into details about Barbie's involvement. Still, one can only be grateful that Ophuls got what he did on film and presented it in such a profound way. (Adult situations.)

Marcel Ophuls and the Great Big Blank: Montreal International ...  Lesley Chow from The Bright Lights Film Journal, February 3, 2014


BFI | Sight & Sound | DVD: Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of ...  Nick James from BFI Sight and Sound, January 2011 [Michael Walsh] [Cole Smithey]


Cagey Films [kgeorge]


Battleship Pretension [Kyle Anderson]


User comments  from imdb Author: manuel-pestalozzi from Zurich, Switzerland


User comments  from imdb Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico


The Tech (MIT) [Manavendra K. Thakur]


JWR [S. James Wegg]


eFilmCritic Reviews  Teen Movie Critic


Infernal Cinema [James Simpson]


Documentary Starts Here: Marcel Ophüls [Chris Dashiell] (capsule review)


Washington Post [Hal Hinson]


Washington Post [Desson Howe]


Deseret News, Salt Lake City [Chris Hicks]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


Siskel & Ebert  (video)


New York Times (registration req'd)  Vincent Canby, also seen here:  New York Times


"Marcel Ophuls on Barbie: Reopening Wounds of War"    James M. Markham from The New York Times, October 2, 1988



France  Germany  Great Britain  (224 mi)  1994


'The Troubles We've Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime ...  Nathan Lee from The Village Voice, November 7, 2006

The perilous symbiosis of war and the media undergoes merciless scrutiny in The Troubles We've Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime.As penetrating as it is far-ranging, this documentary astonishment by the legendary Marcel Ophüls ( The Sorrow and the Pity, Hôtel Terminus) surveys the Bosnian war through the lens of the international press corp. Christiane Amanpour of CNN, John Burns of The New York Times, famed war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, and dozens of others provide grist for the ethical mill, while Ophüls provides the omnivorous intelligence required to sustain nearly four hours of riveting inquiry. Original footage is poised against film clips ( Only Angels Have Wings, Papa's Lola Montés) selected for maximum irony and structural dynamism. Screening five times this week at Anthology Film Archives, Veillées d'armes, as it's known in original French, will be available spring 2007 as a less butt-busting experience on DVD through Milestone Films.

by Jerry White   The Troubles We’ve Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime, from Cinema Scope

None of Marcel Ophuls’ films have ever been very easy to see, but for many years The Troubles We’ve Seen (1994) has had a special mystique. To my knowledge it played only twice in North America (once at the 1994 New York Film Festival and once at Cinematheque Ontario in 1995) before vanishing more or less without a trace. Now, it’s been picked up by the intrepid distributor Milestone, who is showing it widely in anticipation of a planned DVD release. Their timing is ideal.

There is a moment in Troubles—which is ostensibly about the coverage of the war in Bosnia—that is positively eerie in the way that it predicts the mass media’s total inability to resist assimilation during the second Iraq war. Paul Marchand, a young, cocky, cigar-chomping freelancer, rants about how wimpy journalists are for wanting to be in armoured cars, how unwilling they are to submit themselves to the depredations of their subjects. Ophuls takes this as a jumping-off point to talk about how manufactured a lot of war coverage is, how so much of it is taken in relative safety. It’s a strange moment, because while there’s no question that Ophuls dislikes the young journalist’s goofy machismo, he clearly thinks that Marchand is on to something: that most journalists are content to tell the story through the eyes of the powerful and victorious. Made in the heat of the moment, with the Euro-American failure to deal with Bosnia fresh in everyone’s mind, Ophuls’ film is remarkable for the way it addresses those basic questions of media communication that now, unfortunately, seem to be with us permanently.

Indeed, while Troubles is more or less about Bosnia, it actually floats over a wide and quite unpredictable territory. In this, it’s very much an Ophuls film, although closer to The Memory of Justice (1976) than to The Sorrow and the Pity (1969); when I saw Memory at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 1995, the screening was followed by a discussion of the relevance of the Nuremburg Trials for the setting up of an international tribunal for war crimes. But Memory is also Troubles’ clearest cousin in terms of structure: both films wander around the political and intellectual life of Europe with a voracious curiosity missing from either the Occupation films or Ophuls’ Northern Ireland film A Sense of Loss (1972).

Furthermore, this film is very much about the idea of Europe, the difficulty of sustaining a European culture that’s worth sustaining. Seen this way, the film has two real stars, far more important than the various political actors interviewed by Ophuls (Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic being the most obvious). One is John Burns, the English-born, Canadian-educated New York Times war correspondent, who is a delight to behold: avuncular and slightly goofy, holding forth on the difficulties of war reporting and the intense animosity that he has accrued due to his frank assessments of the Bosnian situation. Two moments remain etched in my memory: one is when Burns talks of how in most wars, correspondents inevitably debate the respective identities of aggressor and victim, but that in Bosnia there was unanimity about the degree to which the people of Sarajevo were under siege. The second is a sequence where, outfitted in an oversized jacket and a New York Giants cap, Burns interviews first a soldier and then an old-timer in slow, steady German. Here we start to see that Burns is able to write powerfully and usefully not because he’s able to feel what the Bosnians are feeling, or because he’s able to camouflage himself, as Marchand wants him to; the Giants cap announces his status as an outsider. Burns emerges as the kind of correspondent we need because he approaches his task with the eyes and voice of a foreigner willing to do the drudge work of getting the details that are indispensable to real understanding. That there is a distance between Burns and Bosnia is not itself a problem; indeed, the fact that he and his subject are both speaking a foreign language—and neither party makes an effort to disguise their difficulty—makes this sequence very much of a piece with the film’s overall sense of Europe.

The film’s other “star” is Alain Finkielkraut, a philosopher who, like Ophuls, has been a thorny presence in French intellectual life. He’s written extensively about the war in the former Yugoslavia, most famously in the book Comment peut-on être Croate? (1992), published in English as Dispatches from the Balkan War and Other Writings. We see the impassioned expert in him when, during a phone call with Ophuls, Finkielkraut gets worked up into a semi-rant about the complexities of Croatian history and the inability of the media to move beyond the propaganda distributed by each side in the war. Finkielkraut’s presence in Troubles is almost inevitable; a French film about Bosnia that didn’t include him would be like an American film about WWII that didn’t include Stephen Ambrose. Unlike Ambrose, however, Finkielkraut has an ongoing political-philosophical project that goes far beyond specific, detail-oriented narrative history.

We get a good sense of this in his L’ingratitude: Conversation sur notre temps (1996), a book-length interview with Québécois journalist Antoine Robitaille, where Finkielkraut challenges an overly romantic vision of Sarajevo as a symbol of cosmopolitan Europe under siege by a dying nationalism; he writes that “An authentically plural city, a vertiginous tangle of confessions, calendars, ceremonies and architectures, that doesn’t mean that Sarajevo was ever constituted as the little New-Yorkish approximation run aground in the Balkans, that some, emotionally, wanted to discover.” This aligns nicely with his critique of sentimental multiculturalism in 1987’s La défaite de la pensée (available in English as The Defeat of the Mind). Frustrated by the tone-deafness of both romantic (as in through-rose-coloured-glasses-viewing) advocates and Romantic (as in dirt-worshipping, Wagner-apologizing, non-Christian-disliking reactionary) opponents of multiculturalism, Finkielkraut wrote that “the two camps profess the same relativism. The credos are opposed, but not the visions of the world: both perceive cultures as enveloping totalities, and give the last word to their multiplicity.” Finkielkraut has contrasted the notion of an ethnic state—which he sees as a German invention—with the French idea of a political state.  In L’Ingratitude he writes that “France, in short, gave to the world a definition of the nation that was political, and not cultural”; in La défaite de la pensée he writes that “In the century of nationalisms, France—and was its merit and its originality—refused the racializing of the spirit,” which he contrasts to “la bêtise haineuse du Volksgeist,” or, to channel George Burns via Bart Simpson, the hideous bitch-goddess of the “national spirit.” Finkielkraut still believes in the viability of culture as a category (he’s proud of France’s legacy, and annoyed by German Romanticism’s vision of nation) and thinks it an idea worth defending (hence his importance in Québec, particularly in light of his defence of Croatia). But he’s also highly allergic to the politics of ethnic nationalism of whatever stripe (hence the reason that La défaite was such a point of debate in Québec in the 80s).

Finkielkraut wants culture to make demands instead of offering easy comfort, and this, of course, is the vision of Sarajevo offered by Ophuls. We see Sarajevo here as a place where people live side by side and try to create a distinctive culture that reflects this co-existence, but who are utterly unsentimental about their project. When Ophuls interviews an actor whose legs were blown off by a Bosnian Serb bomb, he asks him what he would do if he were acting in a play attended by Nikola Koljevic (another interviewee), the Republica Srpska vice-president and former Shakespeare scholar (who this actor had studied under) responsible for numerous atrocities in the war, likely including the one that blew the actor’s legs off. There is at first some misunderstanding. The actor tells Ophuls that not all Serbs are responsible, that his wife is a Serb, that people live together here. Ophuls presses the point; no, no, what would you if this specific Serb, this man who gave orders to kill civilians, your former professor, was in the audience? Ah, the actor says, now finally understanding: I would kill him.

VERTIGO | The Troubles We've Seen - Close-Up Film Centre   James Leahy, Winter 1994




Veillées d'armes (The Troubles We've Seen) | Courtisane


The Troubles We've Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime | Variety  Lisa Nesselson


Ophüls, Max


The Films of Max Ophuls  Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television

Max Ophuls directed films in Europe and the United States.

Here is a checklist of features that occur in many of Ophuls' films:

  • Elaborate camera movement, often lateral.
  • Back and forth camera movements along a path.
  • Staircases.
  • Sets on multiple levels.
  • Episodic and sectional construction of stories.
  • Avant-garde narrative techniques.
  • Love stories.
  • Sophisticated subject matter.
  • Fallen women.
  • Men who buy women's sexual favors.
  • Historical recreations of continental eras and societies.
  • Entertainment spectacles: fairs, circuses, merry-go-rounds, the carriage ride with unrolling pictures in Letter From an Unknown Woman.
  • Scenes at opera houses.
  • Dance scenes.
  • The presence of tradesmen and servants as supporting players in camera movements.
  • A playful quality.
  • Complex direction of actors, expressing nuances of character and romantic feeling.
  • Irony.
  • Persistent, symbolic objects.

Naturally, these do not all occur in every Ophuls film.

Film Reference  Robin Wood

Max Ophüls' work falls neatly into three periods, marked by geographical locations and diverse production conditions, yet linked by common thematic concerns and stylistic/formal procedures: the pre-Second World War European period (during which he made films in four countries and four languages); the four Hollywood films of the late 1940s (to which one might add the remarkable Howard Hughes-produced Vendetta , on which he worked extensively in its early preproduction phases and which bears many identifiable Ophülsian traces, both thematic and stylistic); and the four films made in France in the 1950s. It is these 1950s films on which Ophüls' current reputation chiefly rests, and in which certain stylistic traits (notably the long take with elaborately mobile camera) are carried to their logical culmination.

Critical estimation of Ophüls soared during the late twentieth century; prior to that, the prevailing attitude was disparaging (or at best condescending), and the reasons for this now seem highly significant, reflecting far more on the limitations of the critics than of the films. The general consensus was that Ophüls' work had distinctive qualities (indeed, this would be difficult to deny), but was overly preoccupied with "style" (regarded as a kind of spurious, slightly decadent ornamentation) and given over to trivial or frivolous subjects quite alien to the "social" concerns considered to characterize "serious" cinema. In those days, the oppression of women within the patriarchal order was not identified as a "social concern"—especially within the overwhelmingly male-dominated field of film criticism. Two developments have contributed to the revaluation of Ophüls: the growth of auteur criticism in the 1960s and of feminist awareness, and I shall consider his work in relation to these phenomena.

1. Ophüls and auteurism. One of the first aims of auteur criticism was to dethrone the "subject" as the prime guarantee of a film's quality, in favor of style, mise-en-scène , the discernible presence of a defined directorial "voice": in Andrew Sarris's terms, the "how" was given supremacy over the "what." "Subject," in fact, was effectively redefined as what the auteur's mise-en-scène created. Ophüls was a perfect rallying-point for such a reformulation of critical theory. For a start, he offered one of the most highly developed and unmistakable styles in world cinema, consistent through all changes of time and place (though inevitably modified in the last two Hollywood melodramas, Caught and The Reckless Moment ). Ophüls' works were marked by elaborate tracking-and-craning camera movements, ornate décor, the glitter of glass and mirrors, objects intervening in the foreground of the image between characters and camera. His style can be read in itself as implying a meaning, a metaphysic of entrapment in movement, time, and destiny. Further, this style could be seen as developing, steadily gaining in assurance and definition, through the various changes in cultural background and circumstances of production—from, say, Liebelei through Letter from an Unknown Woman to Madame de . . . Ophüls could be claimed (with partial justice) as a major creative artist whose personal vision transcended the most extreme changes of time and place.

The stylistic consistency was underlined by an equally striking thematic consistency. For example, the same three films mentioned above, though adapted from works by fairly reputable literary figures (respectively, Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, and Louise de Vilmorin), all reveal strong affinities in narrative/thematic structure: all are centered on romantic love, which is at once celebrated and regarded with a certain irony. Similarly, all three works move towards a climactic duel in which the male lover is destroyed by an avenging patriarch, an offended husband. All three films also feature patriarchal authority embodied in military figures. Finally, style and theme were perceived as bound together by a complicated set of visual motifs recurring from period to period. The eponymous protagonist of Ophüls' last film, Lola Montès , declares "For me, life is movement"; throughout his work, key scenes take place in vehicles of travel and places of transition (carriages, trains, staircases, and railway stations figure prominently in many of the films). Even a superficially atypical work like The Reckless Moment (set in modern California rather than the preferred "Vienna, 1900" or its equivalent) contains crucial scenes on the staircase, in moving cars, on a ferry, at a bus station. Above all, the dance was recognized as a central Ophülsian motif, acquiring complex significance from film to film. The romantic/ironic waltz scene in Letter from an Unknown Woman , the fluid yet circumscribed dances of Madame de . . . , the hectic and claustrophobic palais de danse of Le Plaisir , the constricted modern dance floor of Caught , and the moment in De Mayerling à Sarajevo where the lovers are prevented from attending the ball: all of the above scens are reminders that "life is movement" is not the simple proposition it may at first appear.

There is no doubt that the development of auteur theory enormously encouraged and extended the appreciation of Ophüls' work. In its pure form (the celebration of the individual artist), however, auteurism tends towards a dangerous imbalance in the evaluation of specific films: a tendency, for example, to prefer the "typical" but slight La Ronde (perhaps the film that most nearly corresponds to the "primitive" account of Ophüls) to a masterpiece like The Reckless Moment , in which Ophüls' engagement with the structural and thematic materials of the Hollywood melodrama results in an amazingly rich and radical investigation of ideological assumptions.

2. Ophüls and Feminism. Nearly all of Ophüls' films are centered on a female consciousness. Before the 1960s this tended merely to confirm the diagnosis of them as decorative, sentimental, and essentially frivolous: the social concerns with which "serious" cinema should be engaged were those which could be resolved within the patriarchal order, and more fundamental social concerns that threatened to undermine the order itself simply could not be recognized. The films belong, of course, to a period long before the eruption of what we now know as radical feminism; they do not (and could not be expected to) explicitly engage with a feminist politics, and they are certainly not free of a tendency to mythologize women. In retrospect, however, from the standpoint of the feminist theory and consciousness that evolved in the 1970s, they assume a quite extraordinary significance: an incomparably comprehensive, sensitive, and perceptive analysis of the position of women (subject to oppression) within patriarchal society. The films repeatedly present and examine the options traditionally available to women within our culture—marriage, prostitution (in both the literal and the looser sense), romantic love—and the relationship between those options. Letter from an Unknown Woman , for example, dramatizes marriage (Lisa's to von Stauffer, her mother's to the "military tailor") and prostitution ("modelling") as opposite cultural poles, then goes on to show that they really amount to the same thing: in both cases, the women are selling themselves (this opposition/parallel is brilliantly developed through the three episodes of Le Plaisir ). Essentially, Letter from an Unknown Woman is an enquiry into the validity of romantic love as the only possible means of transcending this illusory dichotomy. Clearly, Ophüls is emotionally committed to Lisa and her vision; the extraordinry complexity and intelligence of the film lies in its simultaneous acknowledgement that romantic love can only exist as narcissistic fantasy and is ultimately both destructive and self-destructive.

Far from being incompatible, the auteurist and feminist approaches to Ophüls demand to be synthesized. The identification with a female consciousness and the female predicament is the supreme characteristic of the Ophülsian thematic; at the same time, the Ophüls style—the commitment to grace, beauty, sensitivity—amounts to a celebration of what our culture defines as "femininity," combined with the force of authority, the drive, the organizational (directorial) abilities construed as masculine. In short, the supreme achievement of Ophüls' work is its concrete and convincing embodiment of the collapsibility of our culture's barriers of sexual difference.

Max Ophüls  biography from Turner Classic Movies


Plaisir d'amour - The Films of Max Ophuls - Harvard Film Archive  biography by Laura Mulvey and retrospective film comments


Max Ophüls > Overview - AllMovie  biography


Max Ophüls Biography  Hal Erickson from All Movie Guide


Max Ophüls -  biography


Max Ophuls from Lola Montes - at  biography


MAX OPHULS  biography and film comments from Film Forum (pdf)


Max Ophüls  NNDB  bio page


Max Ophls - MSN Encarta  bio page


Madman Entertainment  biography


Max Ophuls  The Auteurs


Max Ophüls - Director by Film Rank  9 most notable films


Max Ophüls Preis - Awards


Max Ophüls Award


Truffaut’s homage to Ophüls and Lola in Shoot the Piano Player  Lola Montès tribute from Film Forum on YouTube video


Excerpt from 1955 essay on Lola Montès    François Truffaut 1955 essay, from Film Forum (pdf format)


Letter from Max Ophuls to Francois Truffaut   February 17, 1955


Bright Lights Film Journal  Fifteen Years of French Cinema by André Bazin, initially a lecture in Warsaw, Poland by Bazin in November 1957, published May 2009


Trapped in a Tomb of Their Own Making: Max Ophuls's the Reckless ...   Trapped in a Tomb of Their Own Making: Max Ophüls's The Reckless Moment and Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow, by Amy Lawrence from Film Criticism, 1999 (excerpt)


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999


Boston Phoenix Article (2000)  Movies to the Max: Nine Films by Max Ophüls, by Chris Fujiwara from The Boston Phoenix, February 24 – March 2, 2000, also seen here:  Max Ophuls


Inside Out Film Article  Max Who? Nic O offers reasons why an Ophüls retrospective is overdue, by Nicola Osbourne (2000), also seen here:   Eye For Film: Max Who? -


"Max Ophuls: A New Art -- But Who Notices?"   Tag Gallagher from Senses of Cinema (2002)


max ophuls - filmmaker profile at  Max Ophüls:  Bitter & Sweet, by Gary Couzens from Video Vista (2002)


Master of Ceremonies : The New Yorker  The Films of Max Ophüls, by Anthony Lane from The New Yorker, July 8, 2002


Max Ophuls's Adaptation to and Subversion of Classical Hollywood ...  Max Ophuls's Adaptation to and Subversion of Classical Hollywood Cinema and Their Effect on his European Filmmaking, by Lutz Bacher from Fipresci (2006, originally published in 2003)


“… Only Superficially Superficial”: The Tragedy of ... - Senses of Cinema  Adrian Danks from Senses of Cinema, March 21, 2003


Ophuls Conducting: Music and Musicality in Letter ... - Senses of Cinema  Alexander Dhoest from Senses of Cinema, October 5, 2003


Rushdie's Receding Talent  Lee Siegel references Ophüls in Shalimar the Clown from The Nation, September 15, 2005 


Max Ophuls: A New Art – But Who Notices? • Senses of Cinema  Tad Gallagher, October 4, 2002


Salman Rushdie : The Enchantress of Florence : Shalimar the Clown ...  Mary Whipple from Mostly Fiction, October 30, 2005


Liebelei • Senses of Cinema  Jesús Cortés from Senses of Cinema, March 2006


The Exile • Senses of Cinema  Robert Keser from Senses of Cinema, May 5, 2006


Letter from an Unknown Woman • Senses of Cinema  Carla Marcantonio from Senses of Cinema, May 5, 2006


Lola Montès • Senses of Cinema  Rodney Hill from Senses of Cinema, May 5, 2006


"Max Ophuls's Adaptation to and Subversion of Classical Hollywood Cinema and Their Effect on his European Filmmaking"    Lutz Bacher from Fipresci, November 2006


Max Ophüls, The Earrings of Madame de... - Film - New York Times  Dave Kehr from The New York Times, March 11, 2007


The Greatest Film of All Time: Ophüls’ Madame de … Is Coming Back to Town  Andrew Sarris from The NY Observer, March 11, 2007


Andrew Sarris & Lola Montès: A Brief History  Film Forum, where Sarris also claims Lola Montès is the greatest film of all time (pdf)


The Earrings of Madame de . . . :The Cost of Living  Criterion essay claiming greatest film of all time by Molly Haskell, wife of Andrew Sarris


The Ophuls Maneuver: The Earrings of Madame De... :: Stop Smiling ...  James Hughes from Stop Smiling magazine, March 20, 2007


Max Ophuls: Motion and Emotion - BAM/PFA - Film Programs   Ophüls Retrospective, July 20 – August 17, 2007


Moving Pictures: the European Films of Max Ophuls  Ophüls Retrospective, September – December, 2007


Cinematheque Ontario - Programmes - THE PLEASURE OF SEEING: THE ...  The Pleasure of Seeing: The Sublime Cinema of Max Ophüls, including 19 film reviews, October 19 – December 9, 2007


Eye Weekly [Jason Anderson]  Maximum Ophuls, by Jason Anderson from Eye Weekly, November 7, 2007


From the Cheap Seats… » Showing Soon; The Best of The Rest…  John Hodson, July 17, 2008


Why you should watch Max Ophuls this weekend. - By Dana Stevens ...  Dana Stevens from Slate, September 19, 2008


Heart-Shaped World: “The Earrings of Madame de…”  Sean Axmaker from Parallax View, September 20, 2008


Ophüls Proves Prophet With Prodigious <i>Lola Montès</i> | The New ...  Andrew Sarris from The NY Observer, October 7, 2008


Los Angeles Film+TV - Lola Montes: Revered and Reviled, Max Ophuls ...  J. Hoberman from LA Weekly, October 8, 2008


Michael Wood reviews Max Ophuls · LRB 9 October 2008  Michael Wood from The London Review of Books, October 9, 2008


La Ronde, Le Plaisir and Earrings of Madame de... :: Movies ...   Andy Beta from Paste magazine, October 10, 2008


The man who made the camera move - The Boston Globe  Mark Feeney from The Boston Globe, October 19, 2008


Carousels, Circuses And Cathedrals: The Film Art of Max Ophuls   Kathleen Murphy from Parallax View, October 19, 2008 » 2008 » October  October 27, 2008


The Phoenix > Features > Max Ophüls at the Harvard Film Archive  Steve Vineberg from The Boston Phoenix, January 20, 2009


The Films of Max Ophüls series - AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural ...  February 1 – March 5, 2009


The Reckless Moment: Max Ophuls’ Masterpiece of Middle Class America  Sean Axmaker from Parallax View, September 28, 2009


Max Ophuls Meets Nietzsche: Ophuls' Philosophical Interest in ...  Grace Troje from Suite 101, October 5, 2009 


Max Ophuls' Femme Fatales: Dangerous Beautiful Women and Their ...  Grace Troje from Suite 101, October 6, 2009 


Guest: Andréas-Benjamin Seyfert - "Ophüls: Thoughts on Filmmaking ...  interview with Andréas-Benjamin Seyfert, grandson of Marcel Ophüls, and great grandson of Max Ophüls, from LA Ciné Salon, March 15, 2015


Ophüls, Max   They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


Sarah Palin is the New Lola Montes: A Conversation with Andrew Sarris   Nathan Lee interview on WNYC, September 30, 2008, also heard here:  released at Film Forum


Links for the Day (October 1st, 2008)   The House Next Door  


Irene Bignardi's 5 Best Directors


501 Movie Directors: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest Filmmakers


100 FILMS - [Cahiers du cinéma]


The Cinematheque - 1000 Greatest Films Quest


Max Ophüls - The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia


Max Ophüls - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


THE COMPANY’S IN LOVE (Die verliebte Firma)

Germany  (65 mi)  1931

User comments  from imdb Author: stoni100 ( from Germany

The first long-playing movie of Max Ophüls has not enough singing to be really an operetta, but both songs "Ich wär so gern richtig verliebt" and "Ist dein Herz noch ledig, schick es nach Vendig" are reprised several times. So sometime it looks like an operetta.

For sound track hunters (like me) there wasn´t any real loot, because all singing parts were very short and noisy.

An interesting scene was in a ´wave bath´, because I did not know that this kind of bath was already existing in 1932. (excuse my school-english)

THE BARTERED BRIDE (Die verkaufte Braut)

Germany  (77 mi)  1932


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Only his second film, THE BARTERED BRIDE confirmed Ophuls as an visual artist to be reckoned with. BRIDE is set in a Bohemian village, in the mid-1800s, where Marie (Jarmila Novotna) is "bartered" off in marriage to pay her parents' debts. Hans, the man she really loves (Willy Domgraf-Fassbaender), promises the marriage broker not to interfere with the wedding in return for some gelt--but the story takes a happy turn into the world of the circus in the end. In this Ophulsian musical--featuring spoken dialogue interspersed with songs from Smetana's opera--money makes the world go round...not necessarily to the detriment of true love.  Fernando F. Croce 

The Smetana comic opera, with all its expansive earthiness played like a piccolo for the earliest traces of Max Ophüls' rhapsodic lilt. The Czech village of the libretto is erected around Munich, and as the story begins the circus is led into it by clown-ringmaster Karl Valentin, whose Pierrot figure would be later made sardonic by Brecht, Bergman, Fellini. The plebeian hero (Willy Domgraf-Fassbaender) goes to buy a new wagon wheel and instead finds love at the fairgrounds, although the maiden (Jarmila Novotna) looking for her stray piglet turns out to be the daughter of the burgermeister, promised to be married ("bartered," rather) to somebody else -- "Alles ist so gut wie richtig," the marriage broker (Otto Wernicke) sings, the heroine refuses and dashes out, seeking her true love. The runaway couple is a knowing travesty of stock operetta juveniles, yet Ophüls breathes into these plastic figurines the genuine ardor of yearning: Ducking into a carnival tent, the lovers are suddenly treated to a romantic ballad ("Das ist treue Liebe") and morbid panels, the first of the grinning skulls (cf. Le Plaisir) lurking under the filmmaker's soigné frivolity. Lubitsch is the model (Monte Carlo, mainly), the camera tracks through an open window and glides over a gingerbread village; the characters weave their enchanted affairs until they're brought together at Valentin's circus show, met by Chaplin's (later Renoir's) bear and none other than Max Nosferatu Schreck in full Apache makeup. "Ah, love's sweet dream." Stillness is dangerous in Ophüls' world, Domgraf-Fassbaender and Novotna pose for a picture and are nearly caught; Ophüls nevertheless accelerates the comic rhythm until it approaches the centrifugal, then freezes it into a celebratory memento. With Paul Kemp, Annemarie Sörensen, Hermann Kner, and Maria Janowska. In black and white.

Channel 4 Film capsule review


LIEBELEI (Flirtation)

Germany  (88 mi)  1932


Time Out review

'What is eternity?' a young girl asks her soldier lover. What indeed? As in Ophüls' Lola Montès, La Ronde and Madame de... this early German melodrama - which treats the passionate, whirlwind love affair between a young lieutenant and a shy sensitive fräulein - acknowledges both the liberating joy of love and its sad transience. For humans are never entirely free of their past, and young Fritz has a skeleton in his closet that makes a mockery of the pair's vows of undying love. Most similar to Madame de..., the film may be a little slow and ragged at times, but its final emotional power is undeniably immense.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, a young officer (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) and the daughter of a violinist (Magda Schneider) fall in love and seem to be destined for happiness. Then, a duel over a married woman puts the lovers in jeopardy. Adapted from the play by Arthur Schnitzler, Ophuls' last German film before exile, LIEBELEI is a romantic excursion into desire's unexpected detours. The young director's first success shows that, from the start, he reveled in the way music and the moving camera could celebrate the birth and demise of love. (Ophuls' memorable star was Romy Schneider's mother.)

User comments  from imdb Author: zolaaar from Berlin, GER

The camera of Franz Planer follows the protagonists in long tracking shots, observes precisely the development of an affection and later deep love between Fritz (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) and Christine (Magda Schneider) during the nightly walk through the sleeping city and their endless swings of waltzing through the empty coffee bar. It is also great how Ophüls exemplarily trusts in the viewer's imagination to make things visible. The couple has forgotten the world around them, being only close together, overwhelmed by the feelings, which suddenly arise in them. The slow waltz resembles a soft hug, but the melancholy in this dance is perceptible and especially Fritz, who has a secret tête-à-tête with a bored baroness, seems to fear, that the love for Christine might not have a happy ending.

And last but not least some words about Gustaf Gründgens who plays the cheated baron: In the scenes, he is acting mainly only with looks, with stringent, frigid looks, that whoosh across the room like bullets. The precision of his performance is masterful and probably the best in this film.

LIEBELEI (Max Ophüls, 1932) « Dennis Grunes

From a play by Arthur Schnitzler, Max Ophüls’s Liebelei was released in Germany in 1933, about a month after Hitler became chancellor, without the director’s or playwright’s name in the credits. Both men were Jewish. (Schnitzler had died the previous year.) By this time, Ophüls had fled to France. After the war, the Allies banned Liebelei, which is anti-militaristic and whose heroine commits suicide after the boy she loves, a young army lieutenant named Wolfgang, is killed in a duel.     

Like Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Liebelei takes place in Vienna at the turn of the century; and, like that later Ophüls film, it enmeshes a vulnerable girl’s aching love in the web of the time’s militaristic code of honor. The delay of Christine’s appearance in Liebelei reflects her insignificance in the male- and military-minded scheme of things. By contrast, she matters most to us because of Ophüls’s own feelings toward her and the poignancy of her enactment by Magda Schneider, Romy’s mother.     

Structurally, Wolfgang’s military drills and related military obligations literally interrupt the course of his deepening romance with Christine. As a result, their encounters—their walk together at night, their dance, their sleigh ride—seem like stolen moments. Yet these are the most important moments of their lives and of their briefly shared life. (We see their dance trebly: directly; in a mirror; as wall shadows. We also see the boy dance with his mistress, whose husband will kill him when he no longer has any romantic connection to the man’s wife.)     

Christine’s death, rendered by an expressive camera movement, remains one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinema.

User comments  from imdb Author: jan onderwater from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Some films cannot be sufficiently qualified by superlatives, and this superb, tranquil, poetic masterpiece is one of them. This film is not just to be watched and enjoyed, but to be felt with all the senses.

Without ever becoming sentimental it tells a very moving love story, but there is a deeper meaning in it (of course already conceived by Arthur Schitzler). We see an artificial Vienna and rigid social rules, but what really is shown is a universal and timeless theme: misplaced (male) honour.

This "misplaced honour" is shown through various male characters, but the most devilish of them is Gustaf Gründgens (absolutely brilliant): was there ever a cigarette smoked as by Gründgens, concentrating all his anger and hate in his smoking. And here we have only one example of Ophüls' idea of letting the image speak, not by dialogue alone (sometimes unintelligible, but this is on purpose!), but by body and camera movement, lightning, editing, sets, the meaning of a scene is told.

This film is superb on all levels, but this is not the place to analyze further (and there are people who are much more capable to do that than I am). I just want to refer to the final sequence (starting with Beethoven's 5th): see how Ophüls, just by perfectly arranging Ullrich, Eichberger and Hörbiger opposite Schneider, gets an image that shows emotional desolation: the party is over, life is over (one must have seen the film to understand this remark). This culminates in the long, extreme close up of Magda Schneider realizing and trying to come to terms with what has happened; one must have a heart of stone not to get tears into one's eyes or at least a lump in the throat, when seeing this scene. This scene was her moment of triumph; was she ever again as outstanding as in this scene?

Liebelei premiered after the Nazi take-over; it was banned, then - by popular demand - quickly showing was allowed again but only after the names of the Jewish contributors were removed. It amazes to know that in 1945 it was banned by the Allies.

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [A-]

I was initially worried after seeing La Signora di tutti (Italy, 1934) that Ophüls’ earlier films would be as unconvincing as that was, all incredibly inspired camerawork and staging, but all sadly foiled by inadequate acting and a storytelling not up to the level of sophistication as the director’s mysterious flashback structures. Thankfully Liebelei, the director’s German film of 1933, is almost up to the level of Ophüls’ acclaimed post-Hollywood films, a film intoxicated by romance and by its loss, rendered with an enamored lilt and a refined sadness.

A philandering lieutenant (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) in—where else?—1900 Vienna, already garnering a reputation of unsavory sexual liaisons in the barracks, decides to forgo adultery after meeting a young, innocent girl (Magda Schneider). Ophüls devilishly directs their pseudo-first date, the lieutenant walking the girl home after his buddy and her friend obviously head off to spend an evening together, as a silent and self-absorbed walk home in the snow, with little crackle and chemistry between the two. Yet they are smitten, and soon reveal their love to each other, especially during a glorious sleigh ride through a landscape positively bowed under a dense blanket of snow—miraculously shot on location and not faked by this director who so loves artifice in the drama! Yet such idylls are not meant to last in the work of this most fateful of directors, and the offended husband of the lieutenant’s early conquest figures out what’s going on right as the young officer is calling off that flimsy relationship for something more pure. As is the custom, a duel is demanded, and the outlook for the couple dims in the last act as death may keep each lover apart from the other.

Liebelei generally forgoes the overly elaborate camerawork and shocking long takes of La Signorra di tutti, but exchanges them for a grander mise-en-scène, a film-world more in touch with emotional assuredness and expression. Stylistically, Ophüls does this through very slow dollies into key scenes (almost as slow as that famous near-final shot in Antonioni’s The Passenger!) and keeping certain information off-screen, most notably that fateful duel between the lieutenant and his offended Baron, and most devastatingly during the admission of a lover’s death. At this climax the camera hangs onto the reaction of the survivor with a sublime empathy and dedication, as she hears and responds to the news delivered off-camera. A multitude of other sophistications are to be found in the film (certainly noteworthy and unusual, the carryover of real classical music, here Beethoven, from a scene where it is diegetic, being played by a symphony on-camera, to overlaying the drama of the following scenes as soundtrack music), but enumerating them probably won’t express the film’s lovingly insular, fated romantic atmosphere. Gustaf Gründgens, in a mostly silent role as the justly angry Baron is particularly spectacular; a quote from an IMDb reviewer is too good to not end this post on: “he is acting mainly only with looks, with stringent, frigid looks, that whoosh across the room like bullets.” Indeed, and Schneider’s looks of love, ones so potent that they can only foreshadow the dedication of such a pure lover, foreshadow actions that, like in a Frank Borzage film, will hopefully unite lovers wrested apart by the outside world.

Liebelei • Senses of Cinema  Jesús Cortés from Senses of Cinema, March 2006


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Eye Weekly [Jason Anderson]


Channel 4 Film capsule review


Variety review


LAUGHING HEIRS (Lachende Erben)

Germany  (75 mi)  1933


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

A comedy of errors in which a young man must seemingly sin to find salvation, his greatest happiness and profit. Peter Frank can inherit his winemaker uncle's estate only if he refrains from drinking for a whole month...and finds a way to end longterm competion with another company. A series of accidents and surprise twists bring Peter and the lovely Gina together, and in order to prove his selfless affection, the prospective heir imbibes the forbidden wine. But, as is often true in Ophuls' world, breaking socio-economic rules may not mark the end of the world--but rather the winning of a new one.

User comments  from imdb Author: jan onderwater from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

To Max Ophüls this was an assignment (from the UFA), a pure routine job. One hardly recognizes the later Ophüls in this film (shortly made before his masterpiece "Liebelei"), but still Ophüls made this routine job into a well-paced, stylish and sometimes extremely funny romantic comedy; he probably could not do it any other way. The script is fine with some hilarious dialogue. The use of the surnames of the characters is simple but clever.

Having Ophüls in mind the film can also be considered a celebration of happy-go-lucky life: contrasted are those who live an easy going, wine and dine life with those whose narrow-minded life is based on punctuality and mineral water. Maybe that is why the film was banned in 1937: it was considered a film that could endanger public order and national-socialist feelings.

Good cast with Heinz Rühmann who shows his natural comic talent at best and Max Adalbert who is very good as the grumpy uncle; supporting cast good as well. Chauvinism makes me want to point out Lien Deyers (as Gina), a fine, charming and attractive actress from The Netherlands who had a successful career in German cinema.

The New York Times (Mordaunt Hall) review

Lien Deyers, the charming Dutch screen actress favorably known by patrons of German-language films here, is the animated centre of attraction in "Lachende Erben" ("Laughing Heirs"), a highly entertaining comedy now at the Seventy-ninth Street Theatre.

As the action of this picture is concerned with the fate of the estate of a famous wine grower in the Rhineland and many of the scenes show the cheering effects of the sparkling beverage that made his fortune, its arrival in this country may be considered most timely. In the face of an array of bottles, casks and boon companions, Heinz Ruehmann, the youth to whom Uncle Bockelmann has left his property on condition that he forego all alcoholic drinks for one month, fights bravely against temptation. At the same time he is trying to win the heart and hand of Miss Deyers, as the daughter of a rival wine grower. She thinks he is merely a high-pressure salesman. Of course he succeeds.

The actors are all excellent, the photography and sound reproduction are clear, the music and jokes are pleasing and the views of the Rhine and the vineyards are delightful.

broadcastellan: Beyond M: Max Ophüls's Lachende Erben (1933)  Harry Heuser


EVERYBODY’S WOMAN (La Signora di Tutti) 

France  (97 mi)  1934


Time Out review  Tony Rayns

Ophuls' only Italian film, in which once again his subject is female sexuality - as a 'danger' or threat, as a source of beauty, as a marketable commodity. The film star Gaby Doriot (Miranda) attempts suicide, and under anaesthetic she recalls the events that shaped her life. Commerce, industry and high finance are viewed with sharp irony throughout, but the melodrama centres on a seductive ambiguity: is Gaby a victim of those around her, or their willing accomplice? As ever, Ophuls' highly mobile camera shows rather than tells, emotionally sensitising all it lights upon.

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr) capsule review

Max Ophuls made this melodrama in Italy in 1934, following his flight from Germany. With its large-scale, operatic effects and aggressively experimental style, it is clearly a young man's film, yet contains more of the mature Ophuls than any early work of his I have seen: the elaborate flashback structure employed to tell this tale of a movie star's romantic entanglements anticipates Lola Montes, and the cold, static beauty of lead actress Isa Miranda suggests the sublime emptiness of Danielle Darrieux' Madame de. Ophuls's camera glides and glides, as it always would, yet at this early point the camera movements don't have quite the emotional refinement they would acquire later on. Technique, in Ophuls's case, seems to precede specific meaning, but the emotional outlines are clear.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Adapted from a then-popular novel by Salvatore Gotta, LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI (EVERYBODY'S LADY) weaves--as Andrew Sarris notes, by means of "intricate flashbacks and symbolic ellipses"--the eventful lifestory of movie star Gaby Doriot (Isa Miranda), triumphant as a performer, personally despairing. Triggered by a suicide attempt and subsequent emergency treatment, we are propelled into the actress' past history / memory to re-experience with her the (almost musical) patterns of narcissism, love and heartbreak that have brought her to the present sad state of affairs. LA SIGNORA, says Sarris, "rises to the heights of tragic self-realization so typical of the greatest Ophulsian heroines; and Miranda's Gaby Doriot is indeed one of the greatest of these tragic creatures." It certainly prefigures--in form and content--Ophuls' masterpiece LOLA MONTÈS.

Eye for Film (Nicola Osborne) review [2.5/5]

Truly an extended exercise in soap opera, La Signora Di Tutti tells the tale of Gaby, the daughter of a military man who has lived a life of scandal before becoming a successful movie actress. Her life story is told through flashback as she undergoes medical treatment for a suicide attempt that has taken place before her big comeback tour.

Typically, Ophuls is very visual, with the early medical scenes taking on an almost sci-fi feel, however, the film quality and camera work show their age and the clever touches Ophuls brings to his later work barely feature, though he uses as many novelty cutting techniques as he can (fading in and out of shots is a particular favourite of his here).

The story is true hokum... our poor heroine finds that men simply keep falling in love with her, with destructive consequences.

The main portion of the film is dedicated to showing how each member of a family falls for her starting with the intoxication of the son, but gradually affecting both his mother and father as well. Yup... it's all very torrid stuff with Isa Miranda looking beautiful, slightly bewildered and not a little dangerous in the lead role.

Not the greatest of the director's work this is one for romantics and fans of tragic love affairs.

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [C+]

La Signora di tutti (1934), a film Max Ophüls made in Italy, bares all of the director’s trademarks but suffers from awful, awkward storytelling. Along with his moving camera, Ophüls is known for his frequent use of elaborate flashback framing devices that start his stories. In La Signora we find Gabriella (Isa Miranda), a famous film actress, collapsed in her bathroom before a film shoot. Now under anesthetic on the operating table, Ophüls starts the story that will bring Gaby, as she is called, to this point of illness and desperation. This cinematic roaming through a person’s romantic past will later, as in Lola Montès (1955) with the circus and with Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) with the, uh, letter, form very sophisticated subjective flashbacks, but here the scenes of Gaby’s life comes across as erratic and unmotivated. Part of the allure of Ophüls’ unusual use of heavy flashbacks is the gaps they suggest to the viewer, the missing pieces the storytellers pointedly rush over or don’t mention. Since we are, more often than not, dealing with deeply romantic figures, the oft-crazed, oft-uncontrollable emotions they have inside them can lead to less than ideal outcomes, and Ophüls’ storytelling moves at a stone-skipping-across-the-water clip that may (or may not) elide the darker events and impulses of his characters’ lives. In his best films, as in those mentioned above, these gaps and discontinuities are intriguing; but here in La Signora di tutti they are less motivated and come across more as sloppy inconsistencies in the drama rather than mysterious suggestions by a master storyteller.

Strangely enough, it is not Ophüls’ extreme stylization that has this awkward result. It is a marvel to see this early Ophüls and realize his audacious camerawork and ornate set design was already apparent in 1934! His techniques here includes but are not limited to: long takes, long tracking shots, single-take sequences, 360-degree camera panning, shot/reverse-shot cutting through dissolves, triple cross fades (a shot dissolving into a second which dissolves into a third, meaning three separate moving images overlapping at the same time), and, perhaps most impressively, a shot/reverse-shot conversation that takes place between a man driving a moving car and Gaby rowing a moving boat! Ophüls really gives precedence to the ability of the camera; to first and foremost let it, through movement, express impressionistically a kind of combination of emotion and subjectivity. It is this latter quality that is perhaps most important, as Gaby, like Joan Fontaine’s character in Letter to an Unknown Woman may be qualified not only as a bit mad but also more than a little responsible for her own elaborate downfall, and therefore the moving camera helps explain a psychology that the drama does not.

And this drama does not. Rarely have I seen a film that feels so much contempt for linking things together, linking in terms of everything ranging from how one scene or event leads into the next to how one character changes from shot to shot. Isa Miranda, as the ill-fated heroine who seems to attract scandal like a magnet, and who also delivers one of the most supremely mediocre on-screen performances I have ever seen, seems to simply be fed lines culled from whatever dime-store romance was laying around the set that day. The movie literally goes from a scene where she denies a kiss to the old husband of the infirmed rich woman Gaby has befriended and been taken in by, to admitting (with no between scene or transition of mind or emotion) that she loves and desires to run away with him! The whole film is built on sudden, unexplained changes like this. And as interesting as it is to have a questionably intelligent/sane narrator combined with a curious framing device (flashback while under the knife!), neither the actress nor the script nor even the direction is strong enough to use these discrepancies or point them somewhere, as Ophüls so successfully does in later films.  Fernando F. Croce


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Channel 4 Film capsule review


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze



France  (82 mi)  1935


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Colette collaborated on DIVINE's script, in which a country girl (Simone Berriau) finds work as a chorus girl in Paris, gets embroiled with a bad egg, and then finds true love with a good-looking milkman. Ophuls works the classic city / country opposition here, but the balance between wicked urban allure and rural authenticity is a bit lopsided due to the director's visual delight in the excitement of music hall life. Ophuls called it "my biggest flop"; Truffaut labeled it "a little masterpiece."

Channel 4 Film capsule review

An uncharacteristically flawed film from La Ronde maestro Max Ophüls. A naïve country girl takes centre stage in a seedy theatre in Paris, only to be horrified by the sexual demands put on her. While her unwitting involvement in the cast's drug dealing never rings true, her romance with a milkman convinces and brings some much-needed humour and pace into the somewhat directionless plot. Overall Ophüls seems too entranced by his seedy settings to pay his usually close attention to the plot. The surprise ending will shock fans of his work, and while it may be initially gratifying, on reflection it just adds to the overall disappointment.

iofilm review  Lee

WITH just two prints still in existence this is a rarely seen early work of Ophuls. It's a forgettable look at a woman out of synch with the world around her.

Simone Berriau is the simple country girl who is encouraged to go to Paris and try her luck in show business. Within minutes of arriving she is dubbed 'Divine' and given a place in the chorus line. The innocent is soon surrounded by sleaze - the show's producer wants her to appear naked, male and female cast members try to seduce her and she becomes mixed up in drug deals. Her salvation comes in the form of the local milkman. Can she find true happiness with him?

It has none of the stunning images of La Signora di Tutti (made a year earlier) to help lift it from the realms of cheap melodrama. The screenplay, written by French author Colette, contains some surprising subjects for the time but still the whole thing seems very jaded.


France  (6 mi)  1936


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Ophuls echoed his compositions of pianist Alexander Brailowsky in this performance short whenever Stefan (Louis Jourdan) played piano in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN a decade later.

THE TENDER ENEMY (La tendre ennemie)

France  (69 mi)  1936


Time Out review

Antoine's source play was called The Enemy, but the tenderness is all Ophuls'. Three ghosts who were put in their graves by their 'enemy' (Berriau) foregather at the wedding of her daughter - to reminisce and to see that history doesn't repeat itself. This is quintessential Ophuls: catastrophes of the affections viewed warmly, ironically and non-judgmentally; the preoccupation with time; the speed and fluency of the storytelling. Small-scale (by Ophuls' standards) perfection.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

This rarely seen comic fantasy is set in Ophulsian motion by a mother's thwarting of her daughter's elopement with the man she loves. The girl (Simone Berriau) is then buried in a marriage made for financial security. When her daughter (Jacqueline Daix) grows up, it looks as though she will be the third generation to opt for money over love. But the spirits of three men who died--in one way or another--for love of her mother, their "tender enemy," make a trip back to earth in the nick of time, to warn her off such a sad destiny by showing her, in flashback, her trapped mother's experiences and to introduce her to "the right man." Ophuls adapted this lovely roundelay of mothers, lovers, and "ectoplasms" from a rather nasty play by André-Paul Antoine."Funny, stylish, cynical, THE TENDER ENEMY has a certain downscale strangeness--the ghosts are wrapped in cellophane, and the flashbacks are staged against spare, stylized sets floating in washes of dappled light." -- Magill's Survey of Cinema


France  (5 mi)  1936


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Ophuls' second contribution to a series entitled "Music and Cinema," which included works by a number of well-known directors. Ophuls' shorts were photographed by Franz Planer.

THE TROUBLE WITH MONEY (Komedie om geld)

Netherlands  (88 mi)  1936


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Ophuls' only Dutch film follows the extremely complex adventures of a bank clerk named Brand who loses and ultimately rediscovers a large deposit. An original story, KOMEDIE is the director's most "Brechtian" film in its use of a master of ceremonies or directorial alter ego who tells the tale of money that moves the world: "Money which is mute, which straightens what's bent, which is worshipped, which he desired until it taught him to despise it...." It's not a great stretch to see Komedie's currency as an early version of THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE...

Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) capsule review

A minor film from Max Ophuls, but minor Ophuls still has so much filmmaking energy that it makes even the major work of figures like Spielberg and De Palma shrink to virtual nothingness. Ophuls was effectively imported to Holland to make this 1936 feature and thereby beef up the lackluster Dutch film industry. Based on an original Ophuls story (and coscripted by Walter Schlee, Alex de Haan, and Christine van Meeteren) and featuring songs and commentary from a neo-Brechtian clown who stands outside the plot, the film describes the misadventures of a bank courier (Herman Bouber) who is robbed of bank funds and fired, only to be appointed as head of a finance company by crooked businessmen who believe that he has the stolen money. Rather light and on the cutesy side as narrative, this comedy is worth seeing mainly for the inventive mise en scene (with the great Eugen Schufftan as cinematographer); it's full of unexpected camera angles and Ophuls's usual delight in camera movement (watch for an especially giddy dream sequence). With Rini Otte and Cor Ruys.


France  (88 mi)  1937


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Just before the Sino-Japanese War, the beautiful aristocrat Kohana (Michiko Tanaka) is brought low into geishahood by her parents' bankruptcy and suicide. A coolie who is also a painter (matinee idol Sessue Hayakawa) falls deeply in love with the innocent girl as he transports her to her new home in a brothel. Eventually wooed and symbolically wedded by a Russian naval officer (Pierre-Richard Willm), Kohana remains the heart's desire of her coolie. An Ophulsian Madame Butterfly with moments that anticipate LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.

THERE’S NO TOMORROW (Sans lendemain)

France  (82 mi)  1939


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

A variation on Ophuls' film noir THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), NO TOMORROW is the story of a once-respectable woman who re-encounters her first love, now a successful doctor. Reduced to nude-dancing in a sleazy dive, with a son to support, Evelyne (Edwige Feuillère) borrows money at an outrageous interest rate in order to create a facade of respectability--and, it goes without saying, Georges falls in love with her all over again. But how can Evelyne maintain her bourgeois value and save son and "father" from the consequences of her fall?

WERTHER (Le roman de Werther)

France  (85 mi)  1938


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

From Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, Ophuls' version moves from the 18th to the 19th century, and transforms the dramatic tale of a doomed young man's loss of his true love (Annie Vernay) to a friend (Jean Galland) into a romantic tragedy that focusses--in typically Ophulsian style--on the sorrows of the woman the poet Werther (Pierre-Richard Willm) cannot seduce away from her strait-laced judge-fiancé. In Charlotte's paternalistic society--as in that of MADAME DE...-- "there are always limits to passion."


France  (89 mi)  1940


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

"One of the finest and most misunderstood of all Ophuls' films," according to Robin Wood, SARAJEVO was the last film the director completed in France before fleeing the Nazis to America (and Hollywood). A sumptuous historical drama shot with the extravagant style of his later work, the film is set in the corrupt Austro-Hungarian court, and chronicles the love affair of Countess Sophie and Archduke Ferdinand as they are swept up in the events that led to the First World War. Ophuls luxuriates in the suffocating elegance of court life and characteristically is more interested in the plight of the countess than in the impending doom of the heir apparent. "Finds him relishing the sort of thing he did best--casting an ironic eye on the aristocracy and portraying a bitter-sweet romance against a background of operas, balls, and rides through the woods" (Bloomsbury Foreign Film Guide).

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review



USA  (92 mi)  1947


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

THE EXILE is the one swashbuckler in the history of that robust genre that demands to be called exquisite. Or Dutch: it's a fictional account of Prince Charles Stuart hiding out in Holland, evading pesky Roundhead spies and genteelly romancing a lovely innkeeper (Paule Croset / Paula Corday) while waiting to be restored to the English throne. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who wrote the script and produced as well as giving a droll stellar performance, set the capstone on his enterprise by hiring Ophuls (restyled Opuls for U.S. consumption) to direct. The results are variously delicate, cosmopolitan, and finally ecstatic as Max and Doug have a field day staging an epic swordfight up and down sundry windmills. With Henry Daniell a superb Cromwellian death's-head, plus Nigel Bruce, Robert Coote, and oh yes, Maria Montez!

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., wrote, produced, and starred in this Anglophilic imagining (based on Cosmo Hamilton’s novel His Majesty, the King) of king Charles Stuart II’s life in exile before the Restoration in 1660. The plot focuses primarily on Stuart’s (fictional) romance with a Dutch girl (Corday), and, ultimately, his dilemma over whether to maintain his blissful working class existence with her, or return to the throne of England to serve his “larger” purpose in life. In the meantime, the indomitable Charles is pursued by Oliver Cromwell’s supporters (embodied primarily by the bloodthirsty character of black-hatted Colonel Ingram — a perfectly cast Henry Daniell), and must persuade Corday that a former flame (Maria Montez) no longer holds any sway over his heart. [Montez is simply delightful -- and typically over-the-top -- in her few shorts scenes midway through the film.] Fortunately, director Max Ophuls (in his first American production) adds his inimitable touch to the proceedings, elevating what would otherwise be a mundane historical drama into something slightly more involving; by the end of the film, we can’t help caring about Charles and the fate of his country.

One Response to “Exile, The (1947)”

writer93_99, on January 19th, 2009 at 9:13 pm Said:

Agreed, not a must - but certainly an engaging introduction to the work of director Ophuls, whose most famous films trailed this one. As stated, this is a much better work with Ophuls (and esp. his sweeping camera) at the helm. Without him, it would have the look and feel of a number of respectable but dull historical biopics. I can’t say ‘The Exile’ itself would have been “mundane” without Ophuls directing, but it would certainly be a lesser film.

Fairbanks, Jr. wrote himself a rollicking, romantic and noble role and, as producer, saw that the production was served up with all the classy trimmings. The script seems meant to crowd-please and, as a result, is a bit paint-by-number. Still, it’s efficient and often effective (esp. as it builds to the rousing fight sequence in the windmill).

The film sports a fine cast overall. Corday is rather pleasant throughout, but the more memorable turns are handed in by Nigel Bruce, the deliciously vile Daniell and, of course, Ms. Montez. La Montez actually seems to exit the film about four or five times - and the feeling is that she can’t quite bring herself to leave the screen and has asked Fairbanks the writer to keep bringing her back. Fortunately, her last re-entrance is connected to the plot.

This is definitely one that TCM should (re?-) discover and make available to ffs. Not wildly memorable perhaps but, as stated, worth a look.

The Exile • Senses of Cinema  Robert Keser from Senses of Cinema, May 5, 2006


User comments  from imdb Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York


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Eye for Film (Nicola Osborne) review [3/5]


The New York Times review  A.W.



France  (90 mi)  1948


Time Out review  Tony Rayns

Of all the cinema's fables of doomed love, none is more piercing than this. Fontaine nurses an undeclared childhood crush on her next-door neighbour, a concert pianist (Jourdan); much later, he adds her to his long list of conquests, makes her pregnant - and forgets all about her. Ophüls' endlessly elaborate camera movements, forever circling the characters or co-opting them into larger designs, expose the impasse with hallucinatory clarity: we see how these people see each other and why they are hopelessly, inextricably stuck.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

In this paradigm of romantic filmmaking, Joan Fontaine's love for concert pianist Louis Jourdan blossoms when she's just a teenager, and continues to thrive through his seduction and abandonment (of her and an unborn child). Out of this familiar storyline Ophuls delivers a remarkable heroine so spiritually self-sufficient her adoration takes on a life and power that transcends its unworthy object--Molly Haskell rightly calls Fontaine "a militarist of love." Another "perfect" film, according to David Thomson, who writes that "in its melolodic variations on staircases, carriages, rooms, glances, and meetings, [Letter] is about forgetfulness and the inescapable rhyming of separate times. No one had more sympathy for love than Ophuls, but no one knew so well how lovers remained unknown, strangers."

CINE-FILE: Cine-List -  Ben Sachs

LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN deserves to be considered alongside Max Ophuls' final French masterpieces (LA RONDE through LOLA MONTES), with which it shares extended tracking shots, romantic nostalgia for turn-of-the-century Europe, and a profound understanding of human affairs. The film takes its title and structure from a letter received by an aging concert pianist/playboy that recounts a bourgeois girl's lifelong infatuation with him; in an inspired Ophulsian irony, he hardly remembers their one-night fling from years before. In the words of Judy Bloch, "Lisa's life is like the carnival ride that takes the couple, on their only night together, through the countries of Europe, a fantasy of movement that is really a circular stasis, propelled by a bemused pedaler/director." This may be so, but to characterize Ophuls as simply bemused fails to capture the full power of his art: Few filmmakers have been able to suggest such genuine euphoria amidst obvious recreation. (Vincente Minnelli is another.) No matter how compromised Ophuls' characters are revealed to be, the sheer beauty of his form—which can suggest both architecture and choreography—always finds value in their passion.

FilmExposed dvd review  Tom Huddleston

In Hollywood, unrequited love doesn’t tend to stay that way very long. Sooner or later the plain girl gets a makeover, the fat kid turns funny, the loser strives for victory; once again it is conclusively proven that there’s somebody out there for everybody. There are surprisingly few stories of real yearning and failure, desperation and longing, despite the inherent melodramatic potential in such emotions. Perhaps the lure of the happy ending is simply too strong.

Max Ophuls’ Letter From An Unknown Woman is probably the best unrequited love story ever committed to celluloid. It tells the story of Lisa Berndl (Fontaine) and her magnificent obsession with dashing concert pianist Stefan (Jourdan), the true and only love of her life. Told in flashback as a series of confessions scribbled down by the dying Lisa to her unwitting paramour, the film charts her progression from secret admirer to notch on the bedpost, to unwed mother and finally to society dame, always tortured by the memory of her love for Stefan and the knowledge of what might have been.

It’s hard to say which of these characters is the more selfish; Ophuls and his writers spare them no indignity, from Stefan’s creative narcissism to Lisa’s blind, self-flagellating passion. But somehow, they remain loveable, trapped and defenceless like children against the emotional forces which control them. Even when Lisa considers abandoning her kind, supportive husband for one night with the unreliable Stefan, it is her pain we feel, her confusion.

There is perhaps an element of social critique in Ophuls’ depiction of the affair. Avoiding all direct historical reference (despite the political upheavals of the time and place: turn of the century Vienna), the characters seem to exist in a hermetic bubble of privilege and self-absorption. But Ophuls takes real delight in bursting this bubble, giving us momentary glimpses of real lives being led - the weary musicians forced to play all night as Lisa and Stefan dance, the mute valet who recognises Lisa’s torment but is powerless to do anything about it.

Visually the film is glorious, Ophuls’ camera gliding and swooning through the sumptuous sets, a shimmering monochrome ballet. The music (by the wonderfully named Daniele Amfitheatrof) is equally majestic, orchestral swells accompanying each emotional crescendo. And the writing is note perfect, Lisa’s profound but dreamlike voiceover serving to heighten yet further the sense of poetic tragedy in which the film is steeped.

Letter From An Unknown Woman is a unique and precious work of art. Emotionally overwrought but still detached and incisive, managing to find sympathy for its characters even in the depths of their grandiose self-absorption. It is a film about pity and longing, beauty and ignorance, a heartbreaking study of regret, an otherworldly missive from a lost era of epic tragedy and romance.

Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948, Max Ophuls, US...  Kevin Wilson from Thirty Frames a Second

Max Ophuls' brief sojourn into Hollywood film making provided three undeniably terrific films. As well as 'Letter From An Unknown Woman', 'Caught', in which a woman marries a millionaire who reveals himself to be sadistic and controlling and 'The Reckless Moment', in which a mother tries to protect her daughter but becomes vulnerable to two blackmailers. Both films examined and scrutinised American values, but from an outsider's perspective for Ophuls was German, much like his contemporaries such as Sirk and Wilder who used melodrama and noir respectively for the same purposes. Both films were preceded by 'Letter From An Unknown Woman', whose source novel had been filmed before, but this remains the definitive and best known cinematic version. A superior melodrama, it's up there with the likes of 'Mildred Pierce' if we're looking at the better "women's pictures" of the time.

Set in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century, it's the tale of a love affair that has existed over decades and ultimately ruined the lives of both participants; Stefan (Louis Jourdan), a gifted concert pianist and Lisa (Joan Fontaine), who loved him from afar and eventually has two ill-fated romantic dalliances with him. Ophuls begins with a glorious opening scene, one of the finest I recall, as Stefan receives a letter that stops him in his tracks - "By the time you read this, I may be dead". Until now Stefan has been a carefree playboy who thought nothing of moving from woman to woman. Now he has to face up to the responsibility of his actions. How Stefan got to this point is now revealed to us through flashbacks. He moved into Lisa's apartment block when she was a teenager and she developed an unrequited crush on him that unfortunately for them both never ceased, even after she left Vienna for Linz.

Over the next two decades or so, they meet now and again as she pursues Stefan and her dream of them having a life together. He never recognises her, she does of course. His intentions every time seem honourable enough - it's not as if he treats her as a one night stand, but we realise that Stefan is incapable of settling down with any one woman. His and Lisa's motivations are always completely different, and whilst their fates are inextricably linked forever, they can never have what either of them want. He says to her during their first affair; "promise me you won't vanish", to which she responds "I won't be the one who vanishes". It's as if she knows what his behaviour is like and how he treats women and that his promises are hollow, but this doesn't dissuade her at all. Her attraction and feelings overwhelm any common sense.

Lisa fell pregnant after their first fling, and she had since managed to achieve respectability by marrying a man with wealth and status, yet she jeapordises this by conducting another affair with him. The consequences of this were not only her husband's rejection but also her son's death as he contracted typhus when she was with Stefan and he did not reach the doctors in time. This might not directly be a moral judgement on her behaviour and rejection of respectability, but it's interesting how one's sympathies don't directly lie with Lisa and make us totally condemn the irresponsible Stefan. In many ways, they are equally weak-willed and motivated by hopeless dreams. However, their mutual attraction proves ultimately fatal and the final irony is the fact that Stefan's mute servant was aware all along that the girl who Stefan conducted two brief affairs with were in fact the same woman.

Ophuls would further develop his interest in romances determined by fate in 'La Ronde' and 'Madame de...'. His two following Hollywood films both featured scenarios in which love could be poisonous and that self-sacrifice and self-destruction were potential consequences of this. 'Letter From An Unknown Woman' probably remains the most enduring and impressive of the three films Hollywood films mentioned, certainly one of the defining melodramas of the age, with two excellent central performances and assured direction from Ophuls.

Ophuls Conducting: Music and Musicality in Letter ... - Senses of Cinema  Alexander Dhoest from Senses of Cinema, October 5, 2003


Letter from an Unknown Woman • Senses of Cinema  Carla Marcantonio from Senses of Cinema, May 5, 2006


The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers]


User comments  from imdb Author: theowinthrop from United States


Goatdog's Movies (Michael W. Phillips, Jr.) review [5/5]


Long Pauses  Darren Hughes


Letter From an Unknown Woman  Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television


Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, USA 1948)  CeltoSlavica


AvaxHome -> Max Ophüls - Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) (Repost)


Eye for Film (Nicola Osborne) review [3/5]


Eye for Film ("Chris") review [5/5]  Chris Docker


Joey's Film Blog


What's Old: Letter From an Unknown Woman  JR Jones from The Reader Blog, April 29, 2009


A Film Canon [Billy Stevenson]


User comments  from imdb (Page 2) Author: Galina from Virginia, USA (Chris Dashiell) review


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review


Variety review


TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [5/5]


Time Out New York (David Fear) review [6/6]


San Francisco Examiner (Wesley Morris) review


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze


CAUGHT                                                                   C                     75

USA  (88 mi)  1949


A somewhat downbeat and dreary take on the American Dream, filled with a nightmarish pessimism about the corrupting influence of money, and considering when this was made, it’s a prescient comment on the otherwise sunny decade of the 50’s in America, a decade of supposed optimism and promise, an era when Americans pulled themselves out of the doldrums of the post-war trauma of the 40’s and moved to the suburbs, building new lives for themselves and their Baby Boomer children.  Clashes between Communism and Capitalism were just beginning, and German director Max Ophüls was driven out of Europe by the Nazi’s, emigrating to the United States where he was fired from his first job by Howard Hughes.  This film may be the director’s revenge, taking aim at the huge ego and tyrannical style of Hughes who surrounded himself with Yes men, throwing around directives and always telling others what to do, but leaving himself isolated and alone in the process, much like Charles Foster Kane living alone in his massive estate of Xanadu at the end of CITIZEN KANE (1941).  After Kirk Douglas and Ginger Rogers dropped out for what were considered script differences, Robert Ryan and Barbara Bel Geddes were borrowed from RKO to make this picture, where Ryan as international business tycoon Smith Ohlrig (modeled after Hughes) is a ruthlessly impatient man used to getting his way, but also subject to heart ailments when he doesn’t, momentarily turning him into a panicked weakling in desperate need of his life saving emergency medicine.  But this is a starring vehicle for Bel Geddes as Leonora, who is seen initially in her cramped apartment paging through magazines, picking out extravagant jewels and minks that in her eyes define success.  Saving her money to attend a charm school learning manners and etiquette, her idea of femininity is modeling fur coats in a department store, hoping to catch the eye of a rich millionaire who will sweep her off her feet at the perfume counter.  For many women in the 50’s this aptly describes the American Dream, as going to college and choosing a career was never the first option, which always remained finding a wealthy husband. 


Despite receiving an invitation to an exclusive party on Ohlrig’s yacht, Leonora spends most of the day pouting instead of primping, ending up going at the last minute where she misses the ride, left alone at the pier waiting in the darkness for someone to pick her up.  When a man arrives from the yacht, she asks for a ride, but he has important business to take care of, but brings her along, eventually driving her to his mammoth estate on Long Island, but she refuses to come inside.  Bel Geddes is a nice girl, perhaps overly sweet and naïve, and a bit mousy, always second guessing and questioning herself, while Ryan is bluntly direct and to the point, icy cold, never mincing words, refusing to ever let anyone, even his doctors, make decisions affecting his life, where on the spot he decides to get married just to prove his psychiatrist wrong.  When he picks Bel Geddes, you’d think she’d be the picture of happiness and bliss after their marriage, but instead she mopes around in a gloom of self-doubt, rationalizing that it was never about the money, when it was obviously about the money, then convincing herself “he wasn’t like that before we were married,” when in fact he was exactly like that from the moment she met him, a dictatorial control freak who always has to have it his way.  Adapted from the Libbie Block novel by Arthur Laurents, who also wrote Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948), the problem is a weak script, as all the characters, including the leads, come off as too one-dimensional, where none of them are that interesting, where Curt Bois (who calls everyone “darling”) as Ohlrig’s assistant, was apparently hired to play the piano 24 hours a day, so everytime Ohlrig arrives home, he reminds Leonora that it’s time for them to go to work, playing the same tune over and over again to the point of near madness.  They fall into predictable patterns, become mired in their own delusional traps, where all Ohlrig wants is some eye candy on his arm who waits on his beck and call, like a hired employee, but when he discovers he can’t order her around like the rest of the staff, she bolts the first chance she gets.


Making a new life for herself, she finds another small, cramped room and a job as a receptionist for a pair of young doctors serving mostly poor kids, which is where she meets James Mason (in his first American picture) as Dr. Larry Quinada, who hires her, though after a few weeks he questions her disorganization, as her desk is a mess, and she continues to hold onto her idealistic views on marriage, advising women patients in the waiting room on the art of marrying a rich husband, even after discovering what a sham her own life has become.  But instead of motivating her to improve her skills and make better choices, Leonora ends up running away in shame, where Ohlrig sweet talks her back to the mansion, but she quickly discovers ulterior motives behind his actions, as he’s already orchestrating her life again as if nothing’s changed.  Running back to the good doctor, things improve momentarily, expressed in a dizzyingly choreographed dinner sequence between the two of them as they end up doing the waltz on a crowded dance floor, where Lee Garmes’ camera swoops around walls peering in and out of the rooms, creating an idyllic moment when he asks her to marry him.  Complications ensue, however, as she’s already married and pregnant, and neither one to the good doctor, so rather than tell him, she again drops out of sight until the doctor tracks her down, where Mason and Ryan have a mano a mano talk, as Ryan lowers the hammer and sadistically reveals the facts of life.  Despite the conservative nature of the times, being cooped up in the mansion of a man who has no interest in her, who in fact openly despises her, does not seem to be the right environment to live or have a baby, especially when she’s met someone who actually cares about her.  But in this film, that’s not an option, where instead there’s a contrived ending, where Mason gives a long involved speech to Bel Geddes in the back of an ambulance, an ominous picture of melodramatic destiny and gloom, where one finds freedom and hope in the ultimate tragedy of their lives, pulling success out of failure, which may as well be an answered prayer to “lead us not into temptation (money), but deliver us from evil (corrupted power).”         

Time Out review

A key American melodrama: draw a line between Citizen Kane and Written on the Wind, and you'll find Ophuls' noir classic at the heady mid-point. A car-hop Cinderella (Bel Geddes) chases a fashion-plate, charm-school dream; a childishly megalomaniac millionaire (Ryan) marries her to spite his analyst. Ophuls holds back his camera to frame the sour domestic nightmare, but gloriously equates motion with emotion when Bel Geddes takes solace with James Mason's virtuous doctor. The alluring web of hearts and dollars has rarely looked so deadly, and only the studio spared us the sight of the kill.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Variously dubbed a woman's film and a film noir, CAUGHT is an extraordinarily intense examination of a love triangle involving a blonde "nice girl" who dreams of bettering herself (Barbara Bel Geddes); a destructively neurotic, charismatic millionaire (Robert Ryan); and a good doctor with his feet firmly planted on the ground (James Mason). Kin to Madame de's husband (Charles Boyer), Ryan's Smith Ohlrig is a dark coil of complexity. Abusive and neglectful of the woman he truly adores, but mistakes as just another gold-digger, this demon lover's passions run very deep. Ophuls designs each frame and camera movement to express existential / emotional / economic traps and revivifying kinesis. Photographed in strongly contrasting light and shadow by the legendary Lee Garmes.

CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Ben Sachs

Max Ophuls made two films with James Mason, who may have been the director's ideal leading man in Hollywood: Few actors were more capable of marrying romanticism and wry detachment. In CAUGHT (1949, 88 min, 35mm), Mason plays an embittered idealist working as a doctor in an impoverished city neighborhood. He's the man Barbara Bel Geddes hides out with after she flees the psychotic millionaire she married—but this being an Ophuls film, romantic satisfaction is not arrived at easily. For one thing, there's the vengeful husband lurking in the shadows; also, the doctor, though noble in his deeds, is a strict and cynical man, difficult to warm to. Though CAUGHT could be classified as film noir, its paranoid image of marriage makes it a direct descendent of the Gothic novel as well. (Nineteenth, rather than twentieth, century art usually provides more useful points of reference when discussing Ophuls, whose society-encompassing tracking shots feel like the closest filmic analogue to Balzac's prose or Delacroix's paintings).

Caught (1949, US, Max Ophuls)  Kevin Wilson from Thirty Frames a Second

Recently, I reviewed 'Letter From An Unknown Woman', a superior melodrama which remains probably the best of the four Ophuls films that I have seen. Made just a year after, 'Caught' was Ophuls' first attempt at making a contemporary American film. This too is another melodrama, but one that also acts as a scathing attack on certain American values of the era (materialism, ambition, success). Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes), Caught's heroine starts as a rather shallow young woman about to enter charm/finishing school, with the sole intention of developing the refined habits and behaviour that will snare her a rich, successful husband. She reads fashion magazines, and romantically yearns for the good life. Naturally, her dreams becomes more of a nightmare.

Leonora meets and falls in love with Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), a ruthless businessman with emotional and physical health issues. He's not so keen, but just to spite his psychoanalyst, he marries her regardless. Marriage isn't what Leonora expected it to be. Her charm school education is no use to her now. A man used to winning (who has heart palpitations when his superiority is threatened), Smith humiliates her in front of their friends/colleagues and wants to do his best to ruin her, ruling over her like a tyrant.

Escaping his clutches, she takes a job as a receptionist for the kind and self-sacrificing Dr Quinada (James Mason), and their attraction is mutual. However, when Smith finds her and wants her back (he can't accept losing her), Leonora is torn between the two men. Her yearning for a good life, for wealth, security and status take priority over love, though the crucial aspect is the fact she's pregnant with Smith's child and that Smith threatens a divorce citing adultery, giving him custody of their child, so perhaps Leonora is learning that her shallow ideals aren't what they're cracked up to be. Her eventual freedom is obtained in the most ironic of fashions, though not without a huge degree of tragedy, and what there is resembling a "happy ending" is incredibly subdued.

Like his fellow German, Douglas Sirk, Ophuls utilises the melodrama genre to raise significant and salient points about typically American values, increasingly held by many during a period of economic prosperity. Smith, unrestrained capitalism in human form is a cruel and merciless creature, who can't accept defeat and who must master others. Leonora's desire of Smith's world and her idealised notions of success and wealth display a sense of ambition that becomes her downfall. Only with the compassionate Quinada does Leonora find happiness, which refutes every ideal she previously held, although she struggles to let go of Smith's world. One wonders though, whether like Sirk's films, the satirical angle of 'Caught' was obviously noticed by its audience or whether it was just treated as a domestic nightmare and nothing more. Ophuls, who uses camera movement better and more interestingly than most, uses his technical gifts to show Leonora's world of peril - look at his use of lighting too when Leonora is faced with the moral dilemma of saving Smith's life when he has a heart attack. It would be so easy to let him die so she can be free and the contempt on her face is obvious, but Ophuls rejects such simple plot developments. 'The Reckless Moment' was made the same year, and should be considered together as incredibly pertinent dissections of contemporary American mores.

User comments  from imdb Author: theowinthrop from United States

This film is a nice little melodrama about a marriage that should not have occurred. Barbara Bel Geddes is a "hostess" who was going to be on a yacht during a party. She is delayed, and when wondering how to get to the party she runs into a young man, Robert Ryan. He offers her a ride, and the two actually have a relaxed good evening together. In fact it turns out to be more promising than Bel Geddes can hope for. She wants to marry well, and she discovers that Ryan is a multi-millionaire named Smith Ohlrig. When he proposes she accepts. Lucky girl? Not quite.

Ryan is one of those fascinating actors who was good enough to handle the juiciest villains and the most compelling of sympathetic types. The same year as CAUGHT he made THE SET-UP, as a boxer in decline, who unwittingly double-crosses a mobster by winning a fight he should have thrown. In future films he would threaten Spencer Tracy in BAD DAY AT BLACKROCK, would by Ty-Ty the deluded farmer and gold seeker in GOD'S LITTLE ACRE, and would be Claggart, BILLY BUDD's evil victim. It was quite a remarkable career. Most people remember his brooding villains more than his good guys. Curiously enough, in real life he was not the clone of his anti-Semitic murderer in CROSSFIRE but a lifelong fighter for civil liberties. He also was a man with a sense of humor. When warned about black listing for his liberalism he laughed and dismissed it, suggesting that J.Edgar Hoover would not go after him - Ryan pointed out he was a good Roman Catholic and a war hero.

Ohlrig has a psychosis that makes him go after anything that initially he can't get. If he doesn't get it he has panic attacks where he collapses and can barely breath. Initially Bel Geddes rejects him, but he perseveres and she makes the mistake of saying yes. Once he has her he treats her like an adjunct to his various properties and corporations. She does break away for awhile, aided by her new romance (James Mason), but she weakens because she finds herself pregnant. Ohlrig now has her and her child in his sights as his property.

If the film was one sided (as my synopsis suggests) it would not quite as good as it is. Ryan does show other points about Ohlrig. He is showing a film of a business project to some of his executives at his mansion, and Bel Geddes is bored. She makes no effort to take an interest in the film - and Ryan pointedly lectures her that if she would just be quiet and watch she might learn something. Although such moments are rarely revealed in the script, it does suggest that a bit more work by Bel Geddes might have made the relationship somewhat more tolerable.

The film conclusion has been somewhat dismissed as too pat. Trapped by her husband's wealth and power, Bel Geddes is left as a weak, pathetic type, pregnant but non-comprehending what is around her. But Ryan has an argument with his factotum, played by Curt Bois. Bois has been a sleazy underling - quite slick and greasy in his rapid patter speech (with "darling" frequently thrown out towards Bel Geddes to get her to do what Ohlrig wants to do). But Ryan basically insults the man for no good reason. Bois suddenly turns on him in a quiet and effective manner. He says that he thinks he'd prefer returning to his old job as a maitre-d at a restaurant than continue working for Ryan. He also says that no matter what Ryan can do, he'll never win Bel Geddes' affections. It is this blow to Ryan's psyche that leads to his final collapse at the close of the film, and to Bel Geddes' release from the marriage she should have avoided.

Caught -  Felicia Feaster


Revenge on a control freak   Charles Taylor from Salon, July 26, 1999, also seen here: Review


Parallax View [Sean Axmaker]


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


Lonelyheart on Notebook | MUBI  Daniel Kasman on Robert Ryan 


The Films of Max Ophuls [Michael E. Grost]  also seen here:  Caught


Eye for Film (Emma Slawinski) review [3.5/5]


User comments  from imdb (Page 2) Author: Jem Odewahn from Australia


User comments  from imdb Author: bmacv from Western New York


User comments  from imdb Author: Roger Burke ( from Australia


User comments  from imdb Author: David (Handlinghandel) from NY, NY  Fernando F. Croce


Caught (Max Ophüls, USA 1948)  CeltoSlavica


The New Yorker [Pauline Kael]  (pdf format)


Caught (1949) - Notes -


Eye for Film (Nicola Osborne) review [3/5]


Variety review


TV Guide review


Channel 4 Film capsule review


The Ottawa Citizen [C.E.C.]  (pdf format)


The Sydney Morning Herald (pdf)


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review  also seen here:  NY Times Original Review



France  (82 mi)  1949


Chicago Reader  Dave Kehr

This 1949 melodrama from Max Ophuls's postwar Hollywood period is usually overlooked in favor of the masterpieces he would realize upon returning to Europe (Lola Montes, The Earrings of Madame de . . . ). But it's one of the director's most perverse stories of doomed love, with Joan Bennett as a bored middle-class housewife whose daughter accidentally kills her sleazy suitor, and James Mason as an engagingly exotic Irishman who attempts to blackmail the mother. Naturally, they feel a certain attraction. Ophuls spins a network of fine irony out of the lurid material; Bennett is surprisingly effective as a typical Ophuls heroine, discovering a long-suppressed streak of masochism. 82 min.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) valiantly tries to help her daughter (Geraldine Brooks) get out of a blackmailing scheme perpetrated by her slimy boyfriend (Sheppard Strudwick), before things go from very bad to absolute worst. Suddenly, a dark angel arrives in the person of James Mason's Martin Donnelly, one of the moodiest and most perfectly controlled performances of this magnificent actor's career. One of the many excellent films produced by Bennett's husband Walter Wanger, The Reckless Moment began life as a Jean Renoir project, and its story has some of the feel of his late-30s work. In what may be his most underrated film, Ophuls concentrated on the sad, oddly romantic interaction between Mason and Bennett, and offered just as controlled and moving a vision of suppressed emotion as distinguished his European work, with a pitch-perfect rendering of southern California in the bargain.

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

Having concealed her daughter's accidental killing of her seedy older lover, upper middle class housewife Bennett finds herself being blackmailed by a loan shark; fortunately for her, the man he sends - small-time crook and loner Mason - becomes infatuated with Bennett, and ends up killling his partner. Ophüls' noir melodrama, like his previous film, Caught, can be seen as a subtle, subversive critique of American ambitions and class-structures: in committing the moral and legal transgression of concealing a corpse, Bennett is merely protecting the comfort and respectability of her family life, and the irony is that Mason's self-sacrifice, made on her behalf, simply serves to preserve the status quo that has relegated him to the role of social outcast. This sense of waste, however, is implied rather than emphasised by Ophüls' elegant, low key direction, which counterpoints the stylisation of Burnett Guffey's shadowy photography with long, mobile takes that stress the everyday reality of the milieu. A marvellous, tantalising thriller, it also features never-better performances from Mason and Bennett.

FilmExposed dvd review  Tom Huddleston

When the opening titles credit a film as adapted from a short story in the Woman’s Home Journal, you know you’re onto a good thing. The Reckless Moment doesn’t disappoint. Max Ophuls’ last American film is a women’s picture in the grand tradition of Mildred Pierce (1945) - dark edged and melodramatic, and dripping with moral ambiguities.

Like Mildred, Lucia Harper (Bennett) is a practical, determined housewife attempting to hold her family together against ever-increasing odds. When her wayward teenage daughter accidentally murders her crooked older lover in the boathouse, Lucia hides the body and attempts to go on with her life. But trouble arrives in the form of Donnelly (Mason), an emotionally vulnerable Irish mobster sent by his superior, the mysterious Nagle, to blackmail the Harper family to the tune of $5000. But while Lucia scrambles to raise the money in her husband’s absence, Donnelly begins to develop powerful feelings for his intended victim.

The power of The Reckless Moment lies in a subtle subversion of established cliché. The plot is straightforward, even predictable, and at first glance, the characters seem much the same: the straight-laced mother, the selfish, petulant daughter and her sleaze ball boyfriend, the scrappy teenage son and grizzled grandfather, the sassy black maid with a heart of gold. But gradually our perceptions begin to shift, as hidden depths are revealed through the characters’ interactions with one another. Donnelly is introduced and immediately feels out of place. He’s placid, reasonable, completely unthreatening, polite and accommodating to Lucia and her family, far from the typical Hollywood gangster. And through her contact with him, another side of Lucia is revealed, the part of her that feels stymied by obligation, unable to step outside the norm for fear of being questioned. Her family is her pride and joy but also her cage. There’s a sense of grim-faced compulsion in the way she deals with them, giving her all to protect them but resenting their hold over her.

Lucia and Donnelly’s relationship never develops beyond the platonic. In his introduction, Todd Haynes discusses how the filmmakers took their lead from Brief Encounter (1945), placing emphasis on passionate restraint over torrid bursts of emotion. And it’s an odd relationship. We get the feeling Lucia is quite a bit older than Donnelly, more experienced and capable, a mother figure as much as a lust object. While her feelings for him are born out of gratitude and remorse rather than desire, her dedication to her absentee husband is never called into question.

It is only at the end that Lucia’s icy mask begins to crack, and here Ophuls pulls off his final act of subversion. After doggedly resisting all attempts at support, whether from her family members or from Donnelly himself, Lucia finally accepts the assistance of the black maid Sybil, whose domestic servility is swept away as she assumes the dominant role, watching over Lucia in her hour of need. It’s a fitting end to a strange but moving film, small but perfectly formed, and a welcome rediscovery on DVD.

The Big House Film Society  Roger Westcombe

The Reckless Moment makes an interesting entrant in the postwar ‘suburban threat’ stratum of thrillers. Put simply, the emergence of suburbia and ‘white flight’ from the cities after the war intermingled anxieties that many thrillers were quick to exploit, from as early as Shadow of A Doubt (1943) to Cape Fear (1955) at the extremes, to numerous ‘B’ and ‘A-pictures’ inbetween, especially around the turn of the decade.

The interesting wrinkle The Reckless Moment brings to this strand of thriller is The Absent Male and its corollary of the (in effect) single mother. This being almost the 1950s there must be a father figure, but the husband of Joan Bennett’s Lucia Harper character is never seen nor heard in The Reckless Moment, nor does he exert any influence, as ghosts in the machine sometimes can.

No, this is Lucia’s show, and she proves mighty competent at extricating her daughter from extortion, throwing the cops off the scent when the family is threatened by a murder investigation, thwarting blackmail and all the while keeping three squares on the table for demanding teen son David and his ineffectual granddad! (By Hollywood standards, this makes for an interesting non-nuclear family, resonant of the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ wartime syndrome where the head of the household’s absence Over There was coped with just nicely, thank you.) Absent hubby is continually presented as a cure-all Lucia, in fact, doesn’t need. So can it be too surprising when James Mason starts to fall for this husky-voiced, slightly put-upon superwoman?

Without revealing why this is a plot twist, Mason’s gradual melting is the film’s weak link and more convincingly portrayed in the 2001 remake (The Deep End, starring Tilda Swinton – an unusually good contempo Hollywood thriller). Mason’s Martin Donnelly character continually complains to Lucia that the family is smothering her, but the reality is it’s just normal life – the usual static and burr-in-the-saddle stuff without which we feel alone. It’s convincingly portrayed too.

Interestingly we can see a link between the family scenes with their hassles and distractions and the similarly bumpy ride of the street scenes in the tenderloin district into which Lucia must descend later in the picture. The contrast from the fluffy cloud-filled sky of her middle class normalcy to the murky grime of pawnshops and tenements is stark - the different classes even get different weather!

Ophuls (streamlined inexplicably by Hollywood to Opuls) was renowned for long leisurely camerawork that was constantly moving and the fluid camerawork here just seems very naturalistic. We move seamlessly amongst the characters and through their world with them. Mason, with whom Ophuls had collaborated the previous year in the brisk, Wellesian thriller Caught, was even (as quoted in John Russell Taylor’s Strangers in Paradise, 1983) moved to verse:

A shot that does not call for tracks, Is agony for poor dear Max

Who separated from his dolly, Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.

So European is the cinematic grammar and overall look of The Reckless Moment it is easy to imagine viewing it with subtitles. Like Lubitsch, Ophuls was, as Taylor says, one of those 'self-contained' filmmakers who carried their vision around with them, and when the chance came to return to his beloved France the next year he followed The Reckless Moment with the worldwide smash La Ronde (1950) with which he made his name – no longer streamlined!

The Reckless Moment: Max Ophuls' Masterpiece of Middle Class ...   Sean Axmaker from Parallax View, September 28, 2009


The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophuls)  Kevin B. Lee from Shooting Down Pictures


For Criticism (Again): Movie Love in the Fifties by James Harvey ...  book review by William D. Routt for Senses of Cinema, July 6, 2004


DVD Times review  Gary Couzens


d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [A-]


neumu [ continuity error ]  The How of Desire, by Kevin Johns from Continuity Error


Noir of the Week  Paulcito


The Reckless Moment (1949) - Max Ophüls  Cinematic Sojourns, also here:  Cinematic Sojourns: The Reckless Moment (1949) - Max Ophüls


pseudopodium: Karen Joy Fowler


Cinepinion [Henry Stewart]


The Reckless Moment -  Michael Atkinson (Chris Cabin) review [3.5/5]


Movie Magazine International review  Monica Sullivan


A Film Canon [Billy Stevenson]


User comments  from imdb Author: mackjay from Out there in the dark


User comments  from imdb Author: bmacv from Western New York


User comments  from imdb Author: rick_7 from Harrogate, England


User comments  from imdb Author: Terrell-4 from San Antonio, Texas


User comments  from imdb Author: writers_reign from London, England


THE RECKLESS MOMENT DVD [Max Ophuls]  Xploited Cinema


Cinematography of the Holocaust  detailed credits


TV Guide review


Variety review


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review


DVD Beaver  Gary W. Tooze



France  (97 mi)  1950                1989 restored version (110 mi) 


La ronde  Don Druker from The Reader

Max Ophuls's witty version (1950) of Arthur Schnitzler's play showing love as a bitterly comic merry-go-round. Going less for the darker feelings in Schnitzler than for the surface gloss, Ophuls displays dazzling technical virtuosity and a cinematic elegance we're not likely to see again. Anton Walbrook acts as master of ceremonies and narrator as one love affair intertwines with another and love's roundabout carries Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux, and Jean-Louis Barrault full circle. The movement toward Ophuls's baroque masterpiece Lola Montes is unmistakable. In French with subtitles. 97 min.

Time Out review

Not one of the director's very greatest films on desire (see Letter from an Unknown Woman and Lola Montès for those), Ophüls' circular chain of love and seduction in 19th century Vienna is still irresistible. Embellishing Arthur Schnitzler's text with metaphors that are entirely his own (a carousel; an omniscient/omnipotent narrator/MC, with Walbrook at times actually seen splicing the celluloid stories together; and that perfect expression of the Ophülsian circle, the waltz), Ophüls almost manages to make you forget that the performances in the first half (Signoret, Reggiani, Simon, Gélin, Darrieux, Gravey) are much better than those in the second. And there are more than enough moments of cinematic magic to excuse the occasional longueurs of talkiness.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Even those unfamiliar with Ophuls' oeuvre know this much-imitated film, adapted from another Schnitzler play and initially banned from the USA due to its alleged "immorality." Comprised of a "roundelay" of brief affairs, LA RONDE is a carnal carousel ride--visually and thematically--"turned" (narrated) by puppetmaster Anton Walbrook. In 19th-century Vienna, a young prostitute (the glorious Simone Signoret) momentarily loves a soldier (Serge Reggiani), who then takes up with a little maid (kittenish Simone Simon, post-Cat People). The merry-go-round continues to whirl, with one partner from the pairings always continuing into the next liaison, until the movement ends where it began. If Schnitzler meant to cast a mordant gaze on sexual shallowness, Ophuls recognizes both the power and evanescence of desire. The cast could not be improved upon: Danièlle Darrieux, Daniel Gélin, Odette Joyeux, Jean-Louis Barrault, Isa Miranda and Gérard Philipe.

La Ronde (1950, France, Max Ophuls)  Kevin Wilson from Thirty Frames a Second

As alluded to in the previous piece, Ophuls' brief Hollywood career was completed after making 'Caught' and 'The Reckless Moment', but still at his creative peak, he resumed work in France, with 'La Ronde' being the first example of this. Based on 'Reigen', the play for Arthur Schnitzler which was banned for obscenity, a fate the film faced in certain countries, Ophuls weaves a mesmerising tale of a daisy chain of ten sexual partners (e.g. A sleeps with B, B sleeps with C, etc before returning back to A). Although Ophuls remains faithful to the original setting of the play, turn of the 20th century Vienna and scrutinises the sexual mores of society as well as its class differences, the crucial theme of the transmission of syphilis seems if not omitted, then underplayed, although this doesn't really undermine the satire too much.

One of Ophuls' masterstrokes is using the handsome and charismatic Anton Walbrook (most famous for 'The Red Shoes') as the film's narrator and master of ceremonies. An omnipotent presence over the events that unfolds, as well as influencing events to ensure the circle of lovers remains intact, he is the incarnation of our desire to know and dispenses romantic advice; "all are led the same merry dance, when love chooses its victims of chance". He initially sets up the whore with the soldier, then aids the pairing off of each subsequent set of lovers, all to keep the carousel going.

Ophuls shows how sexual impropriety crosses class boundaries; notice how the whore pairs off with both the soldier and the aristocrat, representing two arms of high society. The sole married couple both have affairs - as the husband says "marriage is a perplexing mystery" and perhaps the young gentleman who sleeps with his maid represents a sense of economic exploitation. Using typically elaborate camerawork, never more evident that the opening scene, unbroken for several minutes as it follows Walbrook's introduction and summation of the events at hand, Ophuls pans the camera in circular directions as if to denote the circular nature of the waltz of love. Good natured and whimsical, though no less specific in its observation of sexual attitudes of the time, 'La Ronde' is an enchanting cinematic experience by a film maker clearly on the crest of a wave.

Max Ophuls' "La Ronde" -  Francis Wyndham from Sight and Sound, Spring 1982

Arthur Schnitzler's attitude to Reigen seems to have been consistently deprecating. In 1900 he paid for two hundred copies to be privately published and circulated among his acquaintances, describing it as 'a series of scenes which are totally unprintable, of no great literary value, but if disinterred after a couple of hundred years may illuminate aspects of our culture in a unique way.' Twenty-one years later, when its production in theatres at Berlin and Vienna had caused a public scandal, provoking political riots and criminal prosecution, he imposed a ban on any future presentation. He had never intended it to be acted (he explained) but had merely wanted to show his readers 'in an entertaining manner that all people, rich or poor, intelligent or otherwise, speak in exactly the same way during the sexual act.' This year the work came out of copyright in Britain, and to celebrate the end of the ban four separate new translations have been made for performances on stage and television. Reviewing some of these with little enthusiasm, critics have vaguely referred to 'a famous film'. La Ronde is indeed much more famous than Reigen; but owing to legal complications attending its distribution a generation of cinema-goers has matured without the opportunity of seeing it. Its fame is due to its director, Max Ophuls, whose reputation has also matured during the intervening years.

It was made in Paris in l950 - a time perhaps as remote to a modern audience as Schnitzler's Vienna at the turn of the century must have seemed to Ophuls then. He had just returned to Europe from Hollywood, with The Exile, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Caught and The Reckless Moment behind him; and La Ronde (to be succeeded by Le Plaisir, Madame de... and Lola Montez) marked the opening of his last triumphant phase. Londoners, conditioned to austerity at home and a tiny travel allowance abroad, were dazzled by a sophistication which seemed at the same time typically Austrian and typically French; the film was applauded for its civilised irony, cynical wit and bitter-sweet charm, while the theme waltz by Oscar Strauss became a popular classic of the period. Now La Ronde may be shown again. Does it still dazzle? Or have we grown too suspicious of bitter-sweet charm and so on to react with the same delight?

One thing is clear: if Schnitzler at his best was more bitter than sweet, with Ophuls it was the other way round. Schnitzler's original was unromantic, almost brutal in tone: a daisy chain of random couplings in which each sex exploits the other. The pattern of sentimental pretence and duplicity during courtship, followed by post-coital indifference, was repeated with only minor variations through contrasting social spheres, from low life via the opulent bourgeoisie to artistic bohemia. Ophuls' version, half a century later, softened this mischievously bleak study of prosaic promiscuity by approaching it through a haze of poetic nostalgia. His evocation of a never-never Vienna is blatantly stylised; the first shot is of a stage, with candles as footlights; the action remains contentedly studio-bound throughout and the sets have the gauzy, insubstantial look of theatrical backdrops or a once familiar landscape misremembered in a dream. By introducing a new character- the Master of Ceremonies, elegant in evening cloak and tilted opera hat, who sets the merry-go-round tunefully turning - he also introduced an element of determinist fatality not present in the play. The Master of Ceremonies is a figure from expressionist drama, a puppeteer ruthlessly manipulating his dummies while indulgently allowing them an illusion of free will. He is also, it must be admitted, a pretentious cliche- much more so than the broadly characterised 'universal types' of the central drama - and it took an actor with the finesse of Anton Walbrook to prevent him from seeming an irritating bore.

This device also enabled Ophuls to show us a little of what happens to the ten characters outside the two episodes to which each was strictly rationed by Schnitzler. In the process, the intrigue is prettified, becoming a circle of linked love stories rather than a catalogue of copulation or a relay race illustrating the spread of venereal disease. We learn that the soldier, after ditching the maid, falls in love with her too late; we see the husband sadly stood up by the grisette he had seduced with callous caution; and we understand that the grisette has lost her heart to the fickle poet.

Here, Ophuls flirts with sentimentality. Schnitzler's reductionist view of human behaviour, the follies and falsities it is driven to by the erotic itch, may have risked over-simplification and monotony but it was never glib. The notorious rows of dots he used to represent the act of love were tactful rather than arch. In stage productions today, the wretched actors are compelled by current convention to simulate the act, with effects both ludicrous and banal. Ophuls dealt with this problem by various exercises in winsome ingenuity - the most striking being an urbane intervention from the Master of Ceremonies with a reel of celluloid and a pair of censor's scissors. Did all this strike me as coy in 1950? I don't think so - but it does now. As so often in similar cases, one tends to the irrational belief that if anything has changed it is the work rather than oneself.

But such changes are of little importance: the work still dazzles. Ophuls' camera refuses to be restricted by the obvious limits on motion imposed by successive duologues in successive bed-rooms. It roams with the inquisitive abandon and sensuous grace of a cat set free from a basket round the upholstered restaurants, chambres privees, cafe concerts, garconnieres, theatre coulisses and misty riverside alleys which frame the action. The exquisite set and costume designs by George Annenkov do more than decorate: they interpret mood, hint at meaning, betray motive, enhance emotion. If it had no other distinction, the film would survive as an anthology of acting by some of the most brilliant stars of the pre-New Wave French cinema. Has any actress been more delectably sexy than Simone Simon as the maid who seduces (is seduced by?) the 'young master'? No one could equal the delicate glitter of Danielle Darrieux in her two bedroom scenes, with clumsy lover and sanctimonious husband. Given the almost impossible assignment of playing a glamorous ass, Gerard Philipe lives up to his legend. Serge Reggiani, Daniel Gelin, Fernand Gravey, Odette Joyeux... all are consummate. Only Jean-Louis Barrault as the poet embarrasses by caricaturing a philistine's notion of the artistic temperament, and Isa Miranda is not given time to develop her interestingly harsh characterisation of the actress.

Apparently one of their scenes together, in a country inn during a snow storm, was cut by Ophuls from the final print - and its absence, disturbing the crucial symmetry, does make itself felt. (It contains the line 'This is better than acting in stupid plays', which can set a live audience giggling.) It was the first scene he shot, and it was on location. From the rest of the movie, glorying in the artificiality of a studio setting, it must have stood out for Ophuls like a sore thumb, and he reckoned the cost of a little narrative confusion well worth paying for its excision.

La ronde: Vicious Circle  Criterion essay by Terrence Rafferty


La ronde (1950) - The Criterion Collection


La Ronde - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications  Philip Kemp from Film Reference


Michael Wood reviews Max Ophuls · LRB 9 October 2008  Michael Wood from The London Review of Books, October 9, 2008


Slant Magazine review  Dan Callahan


La Ronde -  Sean Axmaker


Shooting Down Pictures » Blog Archive » 917. La Ronde (1950, Max ...  Kevin B. Lee 


Prodigal Directors Come Home: Part 2 of 4: Movie info from ...  David Parkinson from Film in Focus


The Grand Inquisitor [Robert Davison]


La Ronde (Max Opüls, 1950)  Gonzolaz from Reading Cinema


La Ronde (1950)  James Travers from FilmsdeFrance


La ronde (Max Ophüls, 1950) « Simon's Film-Related Rants and Musings


La Ronde  Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television


PopMatters [Erik Hinton]


LA RONDE (Max Ophüls, 1950) « Dennis Grunes, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Arthur Lazere


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  Criterion Collection


DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) dvd review [4/5] [Criterion Collection]  also seen here:  Criterion Confessions


Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3/5]  Criterion Collection


DVD Town (Christopher Long) dvd review [Criterion Collection] (Jon Danziger) dvd review  Criterion Collection


DVD Verdict (Clark Douglas) dvd review [Criterion Collection]


DVD ("Fusion3600") dvd review [Criterion Collection]


User comments  from imdb Author: writers_reign from London, England


User comments  from imdb Author: Gary170459 from Derby, UK


A Film Canon [Billy Stevenson]


Eye for Film (Nicola Osborne) review [3/5]


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review


Laramie Movie Scope (Patrick Ivers) review


Paste - DVD Review  Andy Beta briefly reviewing 3 Ophüls films


TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [5/5]


Variety review


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze



France  (93 mi)  1952


Le Plaisir  Dave Kehr from The Reader

Max Ophuls's 1951 anthology film (a popular form of the time that has sadly fallen into disuse) collects three short stories by Guy de Maupassant, each dealing with the ideal of “pleasure” in a different context: old age, sex, and sacrifice. On the whole, the film falls below the level of the work that surrounds it, La Ronde and The Earrings of Madame de . . . , but it unmistakably belongs to Ophuls's postwar period, one of the most extraordinary creative peaks in film history. In French with subtitles. 98 min.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

Featuring a dream cast--including Claude Dauphin, Danielle Darrieux, Jean Gabin, Pierre Brasseur, Simone Simon, Daniel Gélin, Jean Servais, Gaby Morland, Pierre Brasseur, Madeleine Renaud and Peter Ustinov--LE PLAISIR renders into exquisite Ophulsian cinema three stories by Guy de Maupassant. In the first, "Le Masque," an old man temporarily regains his youth by wearing a magic mask to a ball. In the second, "La Maison Telier," a group of prostitutes embark on an annual country holiday. In the last, a painter who makes his models his mistresses is forced to marry one (Simone Simon) after she cripples herself in a suicide attempt. Each tale is an exhilarating dance, alternating movement and stasis, light and shadow, pleasure and pain.

Time Out review

Ophüls' second French film following his return from the USA was adapted from three stories by Maupassant. Le Masque describes how an old man wears a mask of youth at a dance hall to extend his youthful memories. La Maison Tellier, the longest episode, deals with a day's outing for the ladies from a brothel, and a brief romance. In Le Modéle, the model in question jumps from a window for love of an artist, who then marries her. Although Ophüls had to drop a fourth story intended to contrast pleasure and death, these three on old age, purity and marriage are shot with a supreme elegance and sympathy, and the central tale in particular luxuriates in the Normandy countryside. The whole is summed up by the concluding line, that 'happiness is no lark'.

Le Plaisir  Fernando F. Croce from Slant magazine

As with Jean Renoir's "Everyone has their reasons," it's easy to misread Max Ophüls's famous maxim ("Life is movement") and reduce it to a comfy, affirmative aphorism. The Renoir quote is widely accepted as a warm shrug embracing all of humanity's foibles rather than an acknowledgement of the difficult interlocking and relativity of lives, just as Ophüls's statement can suggest the gracefulness of a universe in motion rather than the implacability of life's forward momentum and the transience of emotion. The beauty and Mozartian sense of visual musicality of his work enhance rather than detract from Ophüls's toughness, for, beneath the velvety suavity, the director's worldview could be as bleak, savage even, as those of fellow Teutonic masters Von Stroheim, Lang, Wilder, and Preminger.

Guy de Maupassant's sardonic pen would seem a perfect fit for the director, yet Le Plaisir, Ophüls's adaptation of three of the writer's short stories, both accommodates and questions de Maupassant's cynicism. Often palmed off as a minor work sandwiched between the clarity of theme of La Ronde (which critic Robin Wood correctly tagged a "thesis" work) and the fullness of expression of The Earrings of Madame de…, it's nothing short of brutal when it comes to depicting the human desperation of glittering surfaces. "I could be sitting next to you," the Maupassant-as-narrator (Jean Servais in the original French version, but Peter Ustinov in the English-dubbed version, sounding a lot like Pepe le Pew) announces at the start, yet the tone remains ruthlessly detached, the better to enjoy the human spectacles of vanity, regret, and elusive romance. Ophüls's justly celebrated mise-en-scène is at full throttle in the opening segment, Le Masque, with the camera picking up the swirling beat of a luxuriant 19th-century ball. Amid the festivities, a man decked in tuxedo, top hat, monocle, and mustache, virtually a parody of the dapper gentleman, rushes onto the dance floor to join the quadrille; in one of the most stunning of all tracking shots, Ophüls's camera follows his strenuous pirouettes until the mysterious figure collapses.

The camera movement ranks alongside Hitchcock's blurring of fantasy and reality in Vertigo and Antonioni's magisterial final zoom in The Passenger, though here Ophüls's spiraling track accentuates the character's loss of control, like a puppet getting tangled over his own strings. The fallen dancer is shown to be wearing a mask, and the scissoring of the plaster façade reveals a breathless old man (Jean Galland) trying to fool age and resurrect past glories. If life is movement, stasis is, logically, death, and, as the Doctor (Claude Dauphin) accompanies the old man back to his home, he realizes the price of fantasy etched in the weary face of Gaby Morlay, Galland's earthbound and long-suffering wife, who sees it as her duty to put up with her husband's egotistical flights of fancy. Surely Stanley Kubrick studied Le Plaisir because Le Masque appears to withering effect in Eyes Wide Shut, his own vision of marital discovery, yet Ophüls's touch is far more delicate than either Kubrick's or de Maupassant's, worldly without being jaundiced, and it is typical of his complexity that the adaptation remains faithful to the writer's words while at the same time indicting the male egos in search of pleasure at the cost of a woman's suffering.

Ophüls's sympathy for women corseted within patriarchal grids is even more evident in the second episode, La Maison Tellier. The virtuosic crane shot inspecting the outside of a Paris bordello, gliding from window to window with the Madam (Madeleine Renaud), suggests the missing link between similar maneuvers in Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise and Argento's Tenebre, though the movement has the subtly constricting effect of surveying a dollhouse, with the women inside not only objects of pleasure for the male customers, but also objects of contemplation for the audience. Ophüls slyly hints that gender exploitation has become so ingrained into society that the cathouse is essential to keeping stability; on the Saturday night that the doors are closed, fights break out among men as the respectable pillars of society line up by the shore to bitch and moan. It's the first Communion of Madam's niece, so the jolly hookers take the day off to visit her family on the countryside. The pastoral vistas away from the city make this the most Renoirian of the episodes, a connection further clinched by the casting of Jean Gabin as Renaud's earthy-peasant brother, whose daughter's church ceremony the next day doesn't keep him from taking an interest on one of the girls, Danielle Darrieux.

Again, Ophüls's own view differs from de Maupassant's, who went out of his way to depict the women as coarsely and stupidly as he could, staging their encounters with the rural community for derisive divisiveness. By contrast, Ophüls visualizes their presence in church as a profound mingling of the sacred and the profane, and his camera takes transcendental flight, literally. Diagonal tilts follow the beams of light, lyricizing the physical distance between religious statuary and human attendees, between spectacle and audience, and, most importantly, between an image seen and an emotion felt. Contemplating their own lost innocence, the women give in to the waves of feeling, spiritual rupture is evoked via pure motion, and a sublime 360° pan brings it all together into emotional community.

Back out in the fields, they savor one last meal before having to return to town, until Gabin makes a wine-fueled pass at Darrieux and brings things to a halt. Still, Gabin is the most sympathetic of the director's male characters, his lechery an open and ultimately good-hearted impulse, free from the hypocritical sheen of the city men who visit the Madam's gals while professing moral superiority—indeed, one of the movie's most affecting shots follows Gabin's lonely ride home after dropping the women at the train station. The crane movement is reprised to close the segment, again inspecting the bordello's windows, only this time the activities inside can only be seen through semi-closed shutters, another view of whirling pleasure that, for all the merriness, can only scream entrapment.

It is typical of the misunderstanding of the director's gaiety that this episode was shuffled around to close the English-narrated version of the film, the concluding twirl around the house sold as a happy ending. Ophüls's original format, capped by the third segment, Le Modèle, is necessary for the crystallization of the previous themes, and for the final dissection of the nature of pleasure. The briefest of the episodes, it is also the most lacerating. "Possession is always followed by the disgust of familiarity"—it could be Peter Coyote talking in Polanski's Bitter Moon, only it's Jean Servais, the narrator, finally given human shape as the jaded friend of painter Daniel Gélin. The model of the title is Simone Simon, who first meets and captivates Gélin in an art gallery, a site of frozen beauty. "I adore your movements," he tells her, yet even in their first moments together he is happiest when molding her into poses for his canvas, immobilizing her into objects of visual plaisir. His colleague's dictum is promptly honored, and Gélin soon grows bored and aloof with Simon—the early, exhilarating lateral pan right in the night of the exposition is reversed, harrowingly, to the left later on as the trajectory of a domestic row, capped by the couple's shattering of their own reflections in a mirror.

Le Plaisir illustrates not merely Ophüls's unparalleled sense of flow and texture, but also his proto-feminism. His later films often take a male narrator, and, as noted Douglas Pye noted in a Senses of Cinema article, the film spends considerable time, through visuals, contradicting the all-controlling patriarchal voice. When Servais speaks of feminine "directness of sentiment," he (and, therefore, de Maupassant) means it condescendingly as inferior to male rationality, for women are meant to be seen rather than heard, felt up rather than felt. That Simon refuses to be discarded by her lover's wandering interest points to the film's structure of awareness of and rebellion against the controlling gaze, the last progression from the passivity of the wife in the first episode and the spiritual epiphanies of the women-for-rental in the second episode. No longer kept in rigid poses, the model is dumped unceremoniously by the artist—bursting into Gélin's atelier, Simon is goaded into jumping out the window, and, for the only time in the film, Ophüls's camera shifts into point-of-view for the swan dive. Both legs broken, she forces Gélin into marriage, a grotesque victory that, paradoxically, seals her freedom. In a society built on the oppression of a gender, where pleasure is not only ephemeral but one-sided, Ophüls says, female assertion can only erupt through such dreadful acts of revolt. "Life is movement," but, as the narrator can only conclude, "Happiness is no lark."

Le plaisir: Life Is Movement  Criterion essay by Robin Wood


Le plaisir (1952) - The Criterion Collection


Criterion Confessions [Jamie S. Rich]


Le plaisir (Max Ophüls, 1952)  Gonzolaz from Reading Cinema


Le Plaisir (1952)  James Travers from FilmsdeFrance


PopMatters (Marijeta Bozovic) review


d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [B+]  also seen here:  d+kaz . Plaiser, Le Review


VideoVista review  Lucinda Ireson from Second Sight


Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3.5/5]  Criterion Collection


DVD Talk (Jeffrey Kauffman) dvd review [5/5]  Criterion Collection


DVD Town (Christopher Long) dvd review [Criterion Collection] (Jon Danziger) dvd review  Criterion Collection [Michael S. Gant]  Criterion Collection


DVD Verdict (Daryl Loomis) dvd review [Criterion Collection]


Epinions DVD review [Stephen O. Murray]  Criterion Collection


User comments  from imdb Author: dbdumonteil


User comments  from imdb Author: pzanardo ( from Padova, Italy


User comments  from imdb Author: Alice Liddel ( from dublin, ireland


User comments  from imdb Author: writers_reign


User comments  from imdb Author: jzappa from United States


FilmExposed dvd review  Matt Kelly


Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [3.5/4]


Turner Classic Movies review  Michael T. Toole on Peter Ustinov


Paste - DVD Review  Andy Beta briefly reviewing 3 Ophüls films


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze



aka:  Madame De…

France  Otaly  (105 mi)  1953

Madame de...  Dave Kehr

Certainly one of the crowning achievements in film. Max Ophüls's gliding camera follows Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, and Vittorio De Sica through a circle of flirtation, passion, and disappointment, a tour that embraces both sophisticated comedy and high tragedy. Ophüls's camera style is famous for its physicalization of time, in which every fleeting moment is recorded and made palpable by the ceaseless tracking shots, yet his delineation of space is also sublime and highly charged: no director has better understood the emotional territory that exists offscreen.

max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

As the earrings of Madame de... take a treacherous route from one owner to the next, an entire world comes to life, the world of the French aristocracy during the Belle Èpoque, particularly the interior world shared by Madame de... (Danielle Darrieux), her rigid husband (Charles Boyer) and her soft, charming lover (Vittorio de Sica). Max Ophuls' masterpiece, easily one of the greatest films ever made, has all the trappings of romantic cinema, but its fluid camera takes us beyond the film's glittering surfaces ("only superficially superficial," as Boyer so aptly puts it) to the raw feelings surging beneath--and ultimately into the spiritually redemptive territory of grand passion. Darrieux, Boyer and de Sica did their greatest work in this towering film. "Perfection." -- Pauline Kael.

Time Out review

Ophüls' penultimate film, indulging a characteristically tender irony in its adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin's novel, is - even by his standards - exceptionally elegant in its rendering of its fin de siècle Paris milieu of ballrooms, the opera, and dashing young military officers paying their attentions to the unnamed heroine (Darrieux) of the title. The story concerns this beautiful woman's adulterous affair with an Italian diplomat (De Sica), with a pair of earrings playing an implausible and extraordinary role in their relationship. What is particularly brilliant about the film is the way Ophüls constantly draws attention to this improbable plot device, to allow a distanced and unmoralistic meditation on actions and their consequences. Also fine is the sumptuous decor, photographed in superb monochrome, and there is a particularly good performance from Boyer as the discreet 'wronged' husband.

All That Glitters Isn't Golden in Quintessential Ophuls  

Max Ophuls (1902–57) is the auteurist's auteur. A director whose distinctive visual style and sustaining interests dominate movies he made in five countries and in as many languages, Ophuls epitomizes a particular worldview. Even as his long, intricately choreographed takes made the flow of time into something material, so his movies were often meditations on an irretrievable past.

The scion of a German-Jewish dry goods business, Ophuls (né Oppenheimer) defied his family to become first an actor and then a stage director in Vienna; although he began his movie career in Weimar, Germany and worked most prolifically in France and the U.S., Ophuls is the most Viennese of filmmakers. He taught the camera to waltz, often through a 19th-century city that, no matter its name, seems a glittering simulation of the Hapsburg capital.

The Earrings of Madame De . . . (1953), showing in a sparkling new 35mm print for two weeks at Film Forum, is quintessential Ophuls. Virtually every shot is a dolly and, although made in France and based on a French novel, it plays like a tale from the Wienerwald. Everything comes mit a dollop of schlag. The titles are an engraved invitation underscored by Strauss; the celebrated opening sequence introduces the eponymous heroine (Danielle Darrieux) at her toilette, pondering over which of her jewels, dresses, or furs she cares for least. The camera executes a series of spins to show off her possessions and winds up framing the comtesse herself in the dressing-table mirror. She's humming—or perhaps it's her boudoir, or even the world.

Having overspent her allowance, the Comtesse Louise de . . . (we're never given her family name) decides to sell the diamond earrings that husband General Andre de . . . (Charles Boyer) gave her as a wedding present—and thereby hangs the tale. Over the course of the movie, the jewels pass back and forth between the characters, their value rising according to the emotional meaning invested in them. Louise pretends to have lost them at the opera; unbeknownst to her, the earrings find their way back to the general who regifts them to his departing mistress who, losing at roulette, pawns them in Constantinople where they are purchased by Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio De Sica), who will present them to Louise with heartbreaking results.

The circulation of these diamonds recalls La Ronde (1950), Ophuls's cause-célébre adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's play, in which a case of syphilis is passed from lover to lover. Simultaneously embodying precise social relations and priceless sentiment, the earrings equally suggest a Marxist riff on the nature of desire. (That the movie's English-language distributor added "earrings" to the movie's original title, Madame De . . . , has served to force such readings.) Last seen, however, the earrings have come to signify Louise herself.

Has there ever been so shallow a character whose fate is so tragic? Playing opposite two aging matinee idols, Darrieux is a natural coquette—not above strategic fainting spells—and undeniably lovely. With her upswept hair, bare shoulders, and impeccable posture, she blossoms from her gown like a single tulip in an Art Nouveau vase. Ophuls famously directed Darrieux to "incarnate a void," and one of the movie's great shots makes this literal (and also emphatic as, rather than moving his camera, Ophuls employs the motion of an object within the frame). As Louise goes on a trip, her train pulls out of the station, leaving the general, who has just seen her off, standing in a misty emptiness.

These characters have manners beyond mannerism. Almost every line has a double or even opposite meaning. When she's with the baron, Louise several times repeats, "I don't love you, I don't love you." But, as she actually does, he will cease to believe her. Vacuous as she is, Louise is always acting except when an unexpected surplus of emotion cues us that she isn't. Late in the day, the general tells her that he has always resented the role in which she cast him. Desperate to regain her love, he presents her once more with the earrings, only to discover that she has never loved him.

On one hand, Madame De . . . is all surface and style; on the other, it conveys real loss. The three principals ultimately drown in the giddy whirlpool of Ophuls's inexorable tracking shots. When the general tells Louise that their marriage is "only superficially superficial," he might be speaking about the movie and, indeed, Ophuls's entire oeuvre. Although the filmmaker is romantic enough to match cut from a flurry of torn love letters to the falling snow, the subtlety of other gestures seems more characteristic of Japanese than Western cinema. And the displacements are kabuki: Whether or not Louise and the baron ever consummate their love, their feelings are made amply (even shockingly) apparent at the two balls where they swoon in each other's arms as if they were the only people in the room.

Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris didn't agree on much but they did find common ground when it came to The Earrings of Madame De . . . . Writing in a small literary magazine in 1961, Kael used the word "perfection" to characterize Ophuls's refined sensibility. And, some 15 years later, Sarris called Madame De . . . his candidate for "the greatest film of all time." The greatness of Ophuls's official masterpiece is that one can appreciate these sentiments even if one doesn't necessarily share them. Much as I admire Madame De . . ., I prefer Ophuls flawed: His mangled Hollywood weepie, the heroically masochistic Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and his wildly ambitious and equally miscast swan song, the delirious Lola Montez (1955), bear the wounds of a losing battle with the movie system. The Earrings of Madame De . . . is miraculously unscathed. The movie is gem-hard, crystalline, and superbly impervious.

The Earrings of Madame de . . . :The Cost of Living  Criterion essay claiming greatest film of all time by Molly Haskell, wife of Andrew Sarris


The Greatest Film of All Time: Ophüls’ Madame de … Is Coming Back to Town  Andrew Sarris from The NY Observer, March 11, 2007


Andrew Sarris & Lola Montès: A Brief History  Film Forum, where Sarris also claims Lola Montès is the greatest film of all time (pdf)


The Earrings of Madame de . . . (1953) - The Criterion Collection


Max Ophuls: A New Art – But Who Notices? • Senses of Cinema  Tad Gallagher, October 4, 2002


“… Only Superficially Superficial”: The Tragedy of ... - Senses of Cinema  Adrian Danks from Senses of Cinema, March 21, 2003


Derek Malcolm's Century of Films  Max Ophuls:  Madame De, by Derek Malcom from The Guardian, February 18, 1999


MDEarringsMmede  Movie Diva


Heart-Shaped World: “The Earrings of Madame de…”  Sean Axmaker from Parallax View, September 20, 2008


House Next Door [Steven Boone]  March 21, 2007


The New York Sun [Nicolas Rapold]


Madame de... (1953)  James Travers from FilmsdeFrance review  David Pratt-Robson


Madame de... (Max Ophüls, 1953)  Gonzolaz from Reading Cinema


The Ophuls Maneuver: The Earrings of Madame De... :: Stop Smiling ...  James Hughes from Stop Smiling magazine, March 20, 2007


Catching the Classics [Clayton L. White]


Film Notes -The Earrings of Madame De. . .  Kevin Hagopian from the NY State Writer’s Institute


Madame de...  Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television


AvaxHome -> Max Ophuls - Madame de... (The Earrings of Madame de ...


VideoVista review  Lucinda Ireson from Second Sight


DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) dvd review [4/5] [Criterion Collection]  also seen here:  Criterion Confessions


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  Criterion Collection


The QNetwork [James Kendrick]  Criterion Collection


DVD Town (Christopher Long) dvd review [Criterion Collection] (Jon Danziger) dvd review  Criterion


DVD Verdict (Christopher Kulik) dvd review [Criterion Collection]


User comments  from imdb (Page 2) Author: blanche-2 from United States


User comments  from imdb (Page 2) Author: WinterMaiden from Los Angeles


User comments  from imdb (Page 2) Author: jzappa from United States


Edward Copeland on Film


Nick's Flick Picks - Capsule Review  Nick Davis


Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [4/4]


Film School Rejects (H. Stewart) dvd review [A-]  also seen here:  Cinepinion [Henry Stewart]


FilmExposed dvd review  Matt Kelly


Eye for Film (Nicola Osborne) review [3/5]


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review


The New Yorker [Anthony Lane]  capsule review


Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]


Paste - DVD Review  Andy Beta briefly reviewing 3 Ophüls films


The Earrings of Madame de... Reviews  Janus Films web page


Madame de... (Directors Suite) (1953) MichaelDVD


TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [5/5]


Variety review


Time Out Chicago (Ben Kenigsberg) review [6/6]


Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) recommendation [Great Movies]


The New York Times review  A.W.


Max Ophüls, The Earrings of Madame de... - Film - New York Times  Dave Kehr from The New York Times, March 11, 2007


DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze



France  Germany  (110 mi)  1955  ‘Scope          New trailer from Rialto


max ophuls  Tracking Eternity:  Max Ophüls Moving Pictures, from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 – July 14, 1999

When this masterpiece opened, police had to be called to put down riots, so confused and enraged were those who first watched it. In 1963, Andrew Sarris dubbed LOLA the greatest film ever made--and it's surely an arguable position! Ophuls' exhilaratingly composed screen--in color and CinemaScope--magnifies the story of legendary courtesan Lola Montès (Martine Carol). Long after her larger-than-life romances with aging King Ludwig (Anton Walbrook), Liszt, and a handsome young student (Oskar Werner), Montès is reduced to a circus display, with ringmaster Peter Ustinov acting as a director who both exploits and adores his "muse.": The tabula rasa of Martine's mannequin-like face and the turntable vignettes of her rich past are the stuff from which movie magic is somehow unreeled. In the inexorable circularity of Ophuls' mise-en-scène lies both the tragedy and transcendence of human existence: he makes you believe that art and style make timebound mortality matter. One of the great examples of the French cinema's provocative bent for identifying Woman with Film.

Time Out   Tony Rayns

A biography of the celebrated 19th century adventuress, but not a biography in the conventional sense: the lady's life is chronicled in a highly selective series of flashbacks, framed by scenes in a New Orleans circus where she allows herself to be put on show to a vulgar and impressionable public. The space between her memories and her circus appearance is the distance between romantic dreams and tawdry reality, or between love and the knowledge that love dies. Ophüls conjures that space into life - indeed, makes it the very subject of his film - by means of the most sumptuous stylistic effects imaginable: compositions unmatched in their fluidity, moving-camerawork that blurs the line between motion and emotion. If ever a director 'wrote' with his camera, it was Ophüls, and this still looks like his most sublime work.  [Note: Shot in three separate language versions - French, German and English - this was premiered at around 140 minutes, but subsequently much recut. The English version - The Sins of Lola Montes in the US, The Fall of Lola Montes in GB - ran 90 minutes, but is seldom seen now. Prints of the French and German versions currently in circulation are approximately 112 minutes. - Ed].

Agnes Poirier  Lola Finally Gets Her Close-Up, from The Guardian, May 20, 2008

Marcel Ophüls will always remember the afternoon of December 23 1955. Standing on the Champs Elysées under a heavy rain with his father, the celebrated director Max Ophüls, he watched the public queuing to see Ophüls' first colour film, Lola Montès. Lurid posters promised a "scandalous" film, starring Martine Carol.

Speaking before a screening at Cannes at the weekend, 80-year-old Marcel recalls what happened next. "Despite cordons and security, the first unhappy viewers managed to tell the rest of the crowd not to bother. The film was booed in cinemas and panned by the critics. He hadn't realised how avant garde his film was."

The producers started re-editing the film behind Max's back. Soon, nothing remained of his complex narrative, or of the powerful soundtrack. Max Ophüls died a year later, and for generations Lola Montès has been known as the "doomed masterpiece".

Now, 53 years on, the film has been restored to its original glory. At the Cannes screening, there were tears in critics' eyes: Lola Montès is back, and more beautiful than ever.

Raging Bull [Mike Lorefice]