A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Alain Tanner at Metrograph which begins July 12
8 Film Retrospective Includes La Salamandre, The Middle of the World,Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, and In the White City All 35mm!
"One of the great unsung radicals to emerge during that intense, now heavily romanticized period of cinematic politicization the late 1960s and early ’70s.." – Michael Rowin, Artforum
"Tanner has given a sense of adventure and enthusiasm back to the political cinema." – Dave Kehr, When Movies Mattered
Among the last lions of the heroic age of the European art film, the Geneva-born Alain Tanner burst onto the international cinema scene at age forty with his debut feature, 1969’s Charles, Dead or Alive, completed after stints with the merchant navy and the British Film Institute, where he became charged with the unquiet spirit of the Free Cinema movement. Back home, the fired-up Tanner would forge a radical body of work that bristles at the numbing neutrality and status quo monotony of his native country, a cinema full of rebels, outcasts, and dropouts, where the presiding mood is one of driftlessness and anxious ambivalence, and a filmography ripe for the rediscovery.Beginning Wednesday, July 12, Metrograph will present 8 films in rare 35mm prints by Tanner, including Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, The Middle of the World, and La Salamandre. Co-Presented with Swiss Films.
Charles, Dead or Alive (1969/93 mins/35mm) Tanner’s coruscating debut introduces a figure who will recur throughout his body of work: the individual who, confronting an insupportable social reality, decides instead to launch himself into the unknown without a safety net. In this case the insubordinate is François Simon’s small factory owner, who, faced with perfect middle-class comfort and no end in sight, decides to detonate his cookie-cutter existence. No mere sloganeering radical, Tanner here already shows himself acutely aware of the emotional cost of resistance, drawing blood with his bold opening shot.
La Salamandre (1971/125 mins/35mm) In one of the great films of the 1970s, two journalists (Jean-Luc Bideau and Jacques Denis), contracted to write a teleplay about an “accidental” gun death, find themselves drawn into perhaps too-intimate relationships with the surviving witness/suspect, an alluring, spontaneous working-class girl, Rosemonde (the always extraordinary Bulle Ogier), who alone knows the truth of what happened. As an iron will towards liberation lies behind Rosemonde’s fresh-faced prettiness, so a serious meditation on the pursuit of truth through fiction dwells behind the playful eroticism on the surface of Tanner’s film.
Middle of the World (1974/115 mins/35mm) After glad-handing, married Swiss politician Paul (Philippe Léotard) falls for an emotionally-withdrawn Italian café waitress (Olimpia Carlisi), his campaign goes into subsequent tailspin, and Tanner stages the fallout in strikingly stark, formal style, with the Brechtian breaks including interstitial date-keeping cartoons, disjunctive landscape shots, and musical interludes by Patrick Moraz. Among Tanner’s most radical films in terms of form, and also among his angriest.
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976/116 mins/35mm) A group of eight stubbornly nonconformist Genevans from different walks of life get together on a rural retreat to dream of a world which offers more than consumerist inducements in this, another of Tanner’s string of ‘70s masterpieces. Co-written by Tanner and English writer John Berger, this redoubt for May 1968 ideals in the mid-‘70s is that rare explicitly political film that doesn’t reduce its characters to placeholders, a major work of postwar European cinema unforgivably out-of-print on domestic home video. Per Serge Daney: “a didactic film with no lesson to teach, an encyclopedic film with no conclusion.”
Messidor (1979/123 mins/35mm) A project taken over from Maurice Pialat, Messidor has as its basis a true crime story which was a sensation of 1970s France: a crime spree by two young girls and its terminal conclusion. Keenly interested as ever in drop-outs and exiles, Tanner tracks the flight of fierce female fugitives Clementine Amouroux and Catherine Retore through an Alpine Switzerland which has here taken on a heavy, sinister air, holding their own against masculine menace while on a winding road to nowhere.
Light Years Away (1981/105 mins/35mm) After the bleak, despairing Messidor, Tanner produced this, a film fairly brimming with a love of life and footloose freedom, the Dublin-set adaptation of Geneva writer Daniel Odier’s La Voie sauvage, and took the Grand Prix at Cannes. Young Jonas (Mick Ford) becomes drawn to an elderly, typically Tanner-esque loner, Yoshka (Trevor Howard, excellent), who lives in a glum graveyard and jealously guards a secret which Jonas endeavors to learn, in this tender fable touched by the ineffable
In the White City (1983/108 mins/35mm) In a filmography filled with unreconciled rebels seeking solitude, few characters go so far in that direction as the enigmatic sailor played by Bruno Ganz in In the White City, who leaves behind his life and his wife to jump ship in Lisbon and dissolve himself into the city. Tanner, master of experimental self-reinvention, here mixes sumptuous images of Ganz’s nocturnal wandering with those of his cryptic Super-8 “letters” home, in the process creating a hypnotic, sensual vision of urban anomie.
A Flame in My Heart (1987/106 mins/35mm) Myriam Mézières, who would appear in several of Tanner’s films, here continues the director’s legacy of flawed, fascinating, feral women which runs from La Salamandre to Messidor. Mézières herself wrote the role of Mercedes, an actress whose odyssey of erotic obsession is captured in graphic detail on gritty black-and-white 16mm, a bracing back-to-basics production which showed that the by-then well-established Tanner wasn’t afraid to rip it up and start again.