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Fiances Separated: Italy’s “I Fidanzati”

Cover of "I Fidanzati - Criterion Collect...

Cover of I Fidanzati – Criterion Collection

Giovanni and Liliana, engaged to be married, are capable of bringing joy to each other, but . . . it might not happen for a long while.  Or it will happen only periodically.  The couple must be temporarily separated from each other because they cannot afford to marry and Giovanni, much to Liliana’s sadness, has agreed to a welding job in Sicily.  The film—Italy’s The Fiances (I Fidanzati, 1963)—then zeroes in on Giovanni’s solitary life in a mundane Sicilian town.  I mentioned joy—but the town offers little of it.  It can be quite dreary.

The Fiances was scripted and directed by Ermanno Olmi, and it is tempting to think that while making it he was in love with Loredana Detto, the actress in Olmi’s Il Posto, whom he later married, and that this accounts for the film’s eventual romantic feeling.  Expressed here, in fact, is the need for the certainty of love (romantic feeling or no).  Giovanni and Liliana, we see, are more than the weak and financially poor persons they necessarily know themselves to be.  They are fiancés, and to Olmi—a devout Catholic, in fact—this makes all the difference in the world.

Starring Carlo Cabrini and Anna Canzi, the picture is short and artistic, gentle and tasteful.  It has more vigor than an early ’60s Antonioni film, but is more restrained and indeed smarter than a Fellini film.  Few Italian products nowadays surpass it.

(In Italian with English subtitles)

No Dessert Of Love In Mauriac’s “The Desert of Love” – A Book Review

“You can’t compare yourself to God.”

“Am I not God’s image in your eyes?  Is it not to me that you owe your taste for a certain kind of perfection?”

This exchange of words does not take place except in the imagination of Dr. Paul Courreges, the main figure in the Francois Mauriac novel The Desert of Love (1925), which exchange is between Courreges and the woman he has long been passionate about (and it ain’t his wife): Maria Cross.  Doubtless Maria is the kind of woman to see “God’s image” in a man she falls for, but Courreges, it turns out, is not that man.  Yet the doctor still loves Maria, whereas she gradually falls for Courreges’s son Raymond.  What the novel directs us to is, on the one hand, the deep secularization of French society and, on the other, “the desert of love” one encounters after connections are made with the desired person.

Very little is working out for these characters, and not a one of them adheres, as Mauriac did, to any particular religion.  The Desert of Love is very solemn and even tragic, though with Christian overtones.  Although God is seldom mentioned in the book, when He is, the references are not only sobering but also encouraging.  Example: “There could be no hope for either of them, for father or for son, unless, before they died, He should reveal Himself Who, unknown to them, had drawn and summoned from the depths of their beings this burning, bitter tide.”

To think that God would summon from a person a burning, bitter tide!  I was prompted to use the word “encouraging” for a reason.


Cover of "The Desert of Love"

Cover of The Desert of Love

“Skirt Day” Pulls No Punches About French Society

The France wherein jihadists have slaughtered innocents is the France of the 2008 film, Skirt Day—a scathing picture indeed.

Here, Sonia, a public high school teacher who often wears skirts, is trying to teach a drama course to wild, disrespectful immigrant kids from Muslim backgrounds.  (They hate skirts.)  Astonished to find that a thuggish African boy has a pistol in his possession, Sonia grabs it and is badly bullied for her trouble.  Now in shock—and feeling vindictive—she unintentionally shoots the boy in the leg and takes the students hostage, though only with the aim of delivering this day’s school lesson.  A police detective, Labouret, is sent to investigate and remedy the situation.  Sonia’s estranged husband, too, arrives at the school, enraged at the principal who has long failed to adequately help Sonia with discipline problems.

The film tells us that Muslim boys have learned to be misogynistic, and even misogynistic criminals.  They also use the word “kike.”  French society here is choking on its racial-ethnic insanity but, what is more, it witnesses the awful weakening of the institutions of school and marriage—and of French customs.  The result is that people feel deracinated and fretful.  Labouret, for example, understands that his marriage is at an end.  Personal angst is running high.

The director-writer is Jean-Paul Lilienfeld (talented), the actress who plays Sonia is Isabelle Adjani (talented—and superlative here).  The film’s climax is not that good, but everything else is dramatically skillful and unspeakably provocative, with a sprinkling of bitter humor.  Skirt Day may be the most politically honest and disturbing French artwork since The Camp of the Saints.

(In French with English subtitles)

La journée de la jupe

La journée de la jupe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bring Me What?: Sam Peckinpah’s Alfredo Garcia Movie

There are several memorable scenes in what is a truly lousy Sam Peckinpah film—Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)—which quickly nosedives with an insane script.

Undeniably, a pretty raw experience is offered in this enterprise—raw enough to be offensive.  Warren Oates engages in a lot of very dopey, mow-’em-down shooting.  Peckinpah strips Isela Vega of her clothes a bit too frequently, and when she confronts Kris Kristofferson . . . well, never mind.  See it for yourself if you want to bother.

By the way, I don’t know who Isela Vega is, but her acting has subtlety and quiet appeal.  She makes the film seem a little less ridiculous than it is.

The director of Ride the High Country, Major Dundee, and The Wild Bunch made THIS?

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 1957 “Nightfall” Never Takes A Fall

Aldo Ray is a mere marionette of an actor in Jacques Tourneur‘s Nightfall (1957) and Anne Bancroft provides little personality in her role.  But the film itself is a knockout, finely directed and savvily adapted from a novel by screenwriter Stirling Silliphant.  It tells of a free-lance artist (Ray) erroneously believed by murderers—and a possible policeman—to have made off with the evildoers’ loot.

There is nothing of a marionette in Brian Keith; he is disturbingly human, engrossingly true as John, one of the killer-crooks.  His character leaves the impression that he should have been a good man.  Thanks to Tourneur, there is a nifty scene inside and outside a shack which emphasizes John’s estrangement, all firearms raised, from his fellow murderer (slimy and played by Rudy Bond).

Nightfall (1957 film)

Nightfall (1957 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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