The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (2020)

Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in. As Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ages and has a place of respect in society having divested himself of his casinos, he finds that being the head of the Corleone crime family isn’t getting any easier. He wants out of the Mafia and buys his way into the Vatican Bank but NYC mob kingpin Altobello (Eli Wallach) isn’t eager to let one of the most powerful and wealthy families go legit. Making matters even worse is Michael’s nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia) the illegitimate son of his late brother, hothead Sonny. Not only does Vincent want out from under smalltime mobster Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) who’s now got the Corleones’ New York business, he wants a piece of the Corleone family’s criminal empire, as well as Michael’s teenage daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola) who’s crushing on him. Ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton) appeals to Michael to allow their son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) quit law school to pursue a career as an opera singer.  A trip to Sicily looms as all the threads of the Corleone family start to be pieced together after a massacre in Atlantic City and scores need to be settled … Why did they fear me so much and love you so much? Francis Ford Coppola revisited the scene of arguably his greatest triumph, The Godfather Saga, with writer Mario Puzo and yet he viewed it as a separate entity to that two-headed masterpiece. That was thirty years ago. Now he’s felt the need to re-edit it and it holds together better than the original release. The beginning is altered and it’s all the better to direct the material towards the theme of faith. Pacino is doing it all for his children and it’s his legacy he cares about more than money or respect: the symbolism writ large in the concluding sequence, a performance of Cavalleria Rusticana in which the weakness of our own central Christ figure is punished with the greatest violence – the death of close family.  This story then mutates from a pastiche of its previous triumphs to a a pastiche of an opera. The shocking and intentional contrast with the Cuban sex show in Part II couldn’t be starker yet it’s there for the comparison as Michael does penance for the death of Fredo, his dumb older brother who betrayed the family. He is physically weak from diabetes and the accompanying stroke;  his efforts to go totally legitimate have angered his Mafia rivals from whose ties he cannot fully break and they want in on the deal with the Vatican where Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) is the contact with Lucchesi (Enzo Robutti) who has a strange way of getting to everyone in the manner of old school Sicilians.  The Christ analogy is also about family sacrifice as his brother Sonny’s bastard son Vincent is nipping at his heels while sleeping with his own besotted daughter; he finds he is still in love with a remarried Kay, whom he finally introduces to Sicily when Tony is set to make his opera debut;  he is in bed with God’s own gangsters and the one good man Lamberto (Raf Vallone) is revealed as the short-lived Pope John Paul I. The references to the cinema of Luchino Visconti (and The Leopard) are rendered ever clearer while Carmine Coppola’s musical phrasing even drops in a bit of a spaghetti western music. It’s a sweeping canvas which gradually reveals itself even if the setup is awkward:  we no longer open on the windows at the Lake Tahoe house with their inlaid spider webs, instead we’re straight into the Vatican deal. It takes us out of the world of Godfather II. But we still see that sister Connie (Talia Shire) is the wicked crone behind the throne in her widow’s weeds, her flightiness long behind her but her song at the family celebration echoes her mother’s song at the wedding in the earlier film. The same acting problems remain in this cut. Like Wallach, her performance is cut from the finest prosciutto as she encourages Vincent in his ruthless ride to the top of the crime world. Mantegna isn’t a lot better as Joey Zasa. The Atlantic City massacre at the Trump Casino isn’t particularly well done – we’re reminded of a cut price Scarface. Wrapped into real life events at the Vatican in the late 70s/early 80s which give Donnelly, Raf Vallone and Helmut Berger (another nod to Visconti) some fine supporting roles, with an almost wordless John Savage as Tom Hagen’s priest son Andrew, this has the ring of truth but not quite the touch of classicism even with that marvellous cast reunited, something of a miracle in itself:  it feels like the gang’s almost all here. I cheered when I saw Richard Bright back as Al Neri! So sue me! And good grief Enzo the Baker is back too! Duvall’s salary wouldn’t be met by Paramount sadly and he is replaced by George Hamilton as consigliere. Even Martin Scorsese’s mother shows up! That’s Little Italy for ya! Pacino is filled with regret in this unspooling tragedy. And there we have it: the coda to a form of Italian American storytelling, the parallels with the earlier films expressed in flashbacks, as if to say, This was a life. Scorsese’s work is acknowledged but the narrative is forced forward to the inevitable tragedy. Life as opera – filled with crazy melodrama, betrayals, love, violence and murderous death. Garcia’s role makes far more sense in this version – we meet him quicker, his relationship clearly cultivated by Connie to ensure a passing of the guard. Yet what this cut also reinforces is that Coppola’s filmmaking wasn’t as confident, there are too many close ups – where is that surefooted widescreen composition? There are some awkward transitions and frankly bad writing. It’s long but it’s a farewell to a kind of cinema. And the death of Sofia Coppola as Mary was the price she had to pay for being her father’s daughter, non e vero? Now she’s the film world’s godmother. Gangster wrap. Finance is the gun, politics is the trigger.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Aka WW84. Nothing good is born from lies. And greatness is not what you think. As a young girl, immortal Amazon demi-goddess and princess Diana (Lily Aspell) competes in an athletic competition on Themyscira Island against older Amazons. She falls from her horse, misses a stage, and is disqualified after trying to take a shortcut. Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright) who is general of the Amazon army lecture her on the importance of truth. In 1984 adult Diana (Gal Gadot) works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. She specialises in the culture of ancient Mediterranean civilisations and studies languages for fun. She continues to fight crime as Wonder Woman, albeit while trying to maintain some anonymity, rescuing people from a botched jewellery heist in a local mall. Diana meets new co-worker, gemologist Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) an insecure woman who idolises Diana and tries to befriend her. Aspiring businessman and charismatic TV huckster Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) visits the museum to try to acquire a mysterious Dreamstone which grants wishes to anyone who touches it. It is one of the artifacts found as part of the black market the jewellery store engages in and both of the women unwittingly use it for their own desires: Diana wants to be reunited with her dead WW1 pilot lover Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); while Barbara wants to be like Diana. She gets a makeover at a local boutique and Lord turns up at a Smithsonian gala and manipulates her in order to retrieve the stone. Once it’s in his possession he wishes to become its embodiment and gains its power to grant wishes, while also able to take whatever he desires from others: he’s been selling shares in oil without striking it yet and in a matter of days becomes a powerful and influential global figure leaving chaos and destruction in his wake. Barbara, Diana and Steve try to investigate the Dreamstone’s power further, and discover it was created by the God of Treachery and Mischief; the stone grants a user their wish but takes their most cherished possession in return, and the only way to reverse the condition is by renouncing their wish, or destroying the stone itself. Steve realises that his existence comes at the cost of Diana’s power. Both Diana and Barbara are unwilling to renounce their wishes, and try to figure out another solution. Maxwell, upon learning from the U.S. President (Stuart Milligan) of a satellite broadcast system that can transmit signals globally, decides to use it to communicate to the entire world, offering to grant their wishes. Barbara/Cheetah joins forces with Maxwell to prevent Diana from harming him. Steve convinces Diana to let him go and renounce her wish so that she can regain her strength and save the world. She returns home and dons the armour of the legendary Amazon warrior Asteria, then heads to the broadcast station and battles Barbara, who has made another wish with Maxwell to become an apex predator, transforming her into a cheetah-woman. After defeating Barbara, Diana confronts Maxwell and uses her Lasso of Truth to communicate with the world … Does everybody parachute now? What a great welcome this film deserves: a charming, heartfelt feminist superhero sequel with a message of peace, love and understanding – but not before the world comes close to annihilation. Adapted from William Moulton Marston’s DC Comics character with a screenplay by director Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & Dave Callaham, this starts out very well but tellingly goes straight from a prehistoric setpiece into an Eighties mall sequence and the first half hour is fantastic. Then … there’s character development when the klutzy Barbara arrives and her transformation to Cheetah takes its sweet time while odious businessman Lord is also introduced with his own backstory. The wheels don’t come off, exactly. The scenes are fractionally overlong and the two villain stories don’t mesh precisely with excursions into politics (the Middle East and a bit of an anti-Irish scene in London) which then escalates when Lord introduces himself to the US President (Reagan himself though he’s unnamed) at the height of the Star Wars policy (and we don’t mean sci fi movies). The winged one then learns the beauty of flight from her reincarnated boyfriend; while Barbara becomes more feline and vicious, an apex predator as she puts it. And Lord gets greedy while alienating his little son. So there are three somewhat diverging narrative threads. This is a structural flaw in an otherwise rather wonderful story. An exhilarating pair of back to back introductory setpieces followed by a Superman tribute that is exceedingly pleasant but doesn’t capitalise on all the characters’ considerable potential, this is a half hour too long (like all superhero outings) with scenes that need to be cut and political commentary that doesn’t sit quite right. Some of the jokes about the Eighties (in Pine’s scenes) get a little lost (directing or editing issues?) but the costuming is on the money and given that Diana lives in the Watergate Complex it’s a little surprising more wasn’t made of this or that it wasn’t set a decade earlier. Otherwise DC is nicely established in terms of geography and obviously it’s plundered for story. There are jokes that land rather well, like the Ponzi scheme; and when Steve gets into a modern aeroplane and Diana suddenly remembers that radar exists. In effect, this is a movie about the conflict in using your powers – there is a time and a place and it’s not always appropriate to get what you want because there are consequences and making a choice implies potentially terrible consequences and sometimes loss of life. It also engages with rape culture, sexism and the dangers of TV, taking down cheap salesmen and televangelists. Witty, moralistic and humane this has everything you want in a superhero movie and it looks beautiful courtesy of cinematographer Matthew Jensen and production designer Aline Bonetto. There’s a neat coda in the end credits. And how nice is it that the late great Dawn Steel’s daughter Rebecca Steel Roven is a producer alongside her father Charles Roven? You go Gal! You’ve always had everything while people like me have had nothing. Well now it’s my turn. Get used to it

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

My interest is energy – transference of energy. Humanoid alien Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) comes to Earth from a distant planet on a mission to take water back to his home planet,which is experiencing a catastrophic drought. He uses the advanced technology of his home planet to patent many inventions on Earth, and acquires tremendous wealth as the head of a technology-based conglomerate, World Enterprises Corporation, aided by leading patent attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry) who carries out all the interactions with people. His wealth is needed to construct a space vehicle with the intention of shipping water back to his home planet. While revisiting New Mexico he meets lonely Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) who works as a maid, bell-hop, and elevator operator in the small hotel where he’s staying. He tells her he is English. Mary-Lou introduces Newton to many customs of Earth, including church-going, alcohol, and sex. She and Newton live together in a house Newton has built close to where he first landed in New Mexico many years earlier. Womanising college lecturer Dr. Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn) lands a job as a fuel technician with World Enterprises and slowly becomes Newton’s confidant. He senses Newton’s alien nature and arranges a meeting with Newton at his home where he has hidden a special X-ray camera. When he steals a picture of Newton it reveals alien physiology. Newton’s appetite for alcohol and television becomes crippling and he and Mary-Lou fight. Realising that Bryce has learnt his secret, Newton reveals his alien form to Mary-Lou. Her initial reaction is one of pure shock and horror. She tries to accept what she sees but then panics and flees. Newton completes the spaceship and attempts to take it on its maiden voyage amid intense press exposure. However, just before his scheduled take-off, he is seized and detained, apparently by the government and a rival company while Farnsworth, is murdered. The government had been monitoring Newton via his driver and he is now held captive in a locked luxury apartment, constructed deep within a hotel. He is kept sedated with alcohol (to which he has become addicted) and continuously subject him to rigorous medical tests, cutting into the artificial applications which make him appear human. Eventually, one examination, involving X-rays, causes the contact lenses he wears as part of his human disguise to permanently affix themselves to his eyes … It happened literally overnight. Paul Mayersberg’s adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel is rigorous and finely attuned to the surreal. Bowie was living on milk and cocaine at the time, if his own admissions are to be believed, and his detachment and appearance are central to the success of probably the greatest science fiction film of the Seventies, an exploration of fragility and trust and rotten human behaviour. And it’s also about the alien nation of America, alienation and sex, feeding into contemporary paranoia about the political establishment. The flashbacks to Newton’s home and family are strange and lovely, his arrival in the nineteenth century simply dramatised for extra effectiveness in a narrative based on juxtaposition of the modern and the unknowable. Beautifully constructed, shot (by Anthony Richmond) and edited (by Graeme Clifford), this may well be director Nicolas Roeg’s greatest achievement with a wondrous soundtrack co-ordinated by John Phillips and featuring compositions by Stomu Yamashta. Stunning. I realise you’ve made certain assumptions about me

Nothing But the Night (1973)

I dislike being put in my placefor you or anyone else. Three wealthy trustees of the Van Traylen fund, which supports a school for orphans on the Scottish island of Bala, are murdered but their deaths are clearly staged as suicide or accident. Three other trustees are on a bus carrying children from the school when the driver suddenly catches on fire, but he is the only one to die. One of the girls Mary Valley (Gwyneth Strong) is taken to a London hospital where she has strange seizures and recounts stories which she couldn’t possibly have experienced. Psychiatrist Dr Haynes (Keith Barron) and tabloid journalist Joan Foster (Georgia Brown) interview the girl’s mother Anna Harb (Diana Dors), a prostitute who’s done ten years in Broadmoor for murdering three people. They hope to enlist the aid of the hospital’s senior member, Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing). When Haynes is brutally murdered following a visit from Harb, Ashley enlists the aid of old friend and police inspector Colonel Charles Bingham (Christopher Lee). They take their investigation to Bala where precautions have been taken to protect the children and the remaining trustees by the local police headed by Cameron (Fulton Mackay). In the meantime, Anna Harb travels secretly to Bala, hoping to find Mary, although she is now suspected of the murders and an explosion on a boat that apparently kills several others of the trustees. Ashley and Bingham then uncover the sinister truth behind the murders … Blasted reporters – never let you get on with your work. An intriguing premise rather undone by a sloppy screenplay from Brian Hayles adapting John Blackburn’s novel. It’s wonderful to see Lee and Cushing uniting in a contemporary story that doesn’t involve vampirism and it’s certainly odd that by the end of that year Lee would be ensconced in another Scottish island folk horror shocker, The Wicker Man. He produced this under his own company banner Charlemagne Films which he formed with producer Anthony Nelson Keys – their only production as it didn’t make money. What a shame that Dors is reduced to so little dialogue and spending half the film grubbing about in the undergrowth – then getting the old pyro treatment. And yes, that is Michael Gambon playing Inspector Grant; Kathleen Byron (the mad nun from Black Narcissus) plays Dr Rose; while young Strong is making her screen debut and would go on to become a much loved TV performer in shows like Only Fools and Horses. The ending is literally a cliffhanger but it’s practically thrown away: you might find similarities with the recent Get Out. Directed by Peter Sasdy. You burned your own mother alive!

Red Joan (2019)

Socialists can have glamour. Joan Stanley (Judi Dench) is a widow living out a quiet retirement in the suburbs when, shockingly, the British Secret Service places her under arrest. The charge: providing classified scientific information – including details on the building of the atomic bomb – to the Soviet government for decades. As the interrogation gets underway, Joan relives the dramatic events that shaped her life and her beliefs. As a physics student at Cambridge in the Thirties, young Joan (Sophie Cookson) is befriended by beautiful Sonya (Tereza Srbova) and her cousin Leo Galich (Tom Hughes) who grew up together after Sonya was orphaned and their relationship is more like that of a brother and a sister than cousins. Joan falls in love with the intense intellectual Leo. He goes to Russia in 1939 and is stuck there when war breaks out. Joan takes a job as assistant to married scientist Prof. Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore) at the wartime Tube Alloys project planning an atomic bomb for Britain. Leo returns from the Soviet Union and asks her to pass information but she refuses. She starts sleeping with Max on a trip to Canada where an encounter with Leo (now based in Montreal) sees her refusing once again to be a spy. Back in England she watches horrified the newsreel footage of the bombing of Hiroshima and finds herself sympathetic to the Soviet cause. But she accuses Leo of using her and then finds him dead, an apparent suicide. She tries to make contact with Sonya again … We’re not on the same side any more. Adapted from Jennie Rooney’s titular novel (based on the life of Melita Norwood) by Lindsay Shapero, this spy drama is meticulously made and attractively played by a talented cast. (If Tom Hughes isn’t the next James Bond I’ll eat one of the extravagant hats on display here). However some crucial plot points and revelations are played down in a badly mismanaged script which effectively diffuses any suspense into two near-identical scenes of the police staging a search of the Alloys department to find evidence about the supply of information to the Soviets. The flashback structure doesn’t always come off, the passage of time isn’t demarcated well and the relationship between Dench and her barrister son Nick (Ben Miles) doesn’t hit the dramatic point required: in fact his father’s identity isn’t clear in a parallel plot with Sonya’s pregnancy in the 1930s. The real culprit recruiting people to the Russian side is far too obvious, the tension is flat and it’s paced poorly. Not what you expect from a director of the calibre of Trevor Nunn but the story is intriguing nonetheless and Cookson does well with the role. Beautifully shot by Zac Nicholson. Is anything you ever told me actually true?

True Confessions (1981)

Looks like a leprechaun, thinks like an Arab. Los Angeles 1948. Detective Sergeant Tom Spellacy (Robert Duvall) probes into the savage murder of a young woman named Lois Fazenda found dumped in an empty lot. At the same time, he investigates a priest found dead in a whorehouse. Spellacy’s brother Monsignor Des (Robert De Niro), a Catholic priest, is meanwhile attempting to expand his church through businessman Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), a shady contractor whose favours he seeks at the behest of Cardinal Danaher (Cyril Cusack). While the two police cases and the real estate deal seem a world apart, Spellacy discovers an insidious connection involving money and power and the path always seems to lead back to the Church … We need more young pastors. Men who’ll do what they’re told. Adapted by John Gregory Dunne from his own novel with a draft by his wife Joan Didion, this utilises the Thirties Hollywood dyad of policeman/priest to prise apart the moral and actual violence that characterised Los Angeles in the years immediately following World War 2. That they’re brothers adds to the frisson of recognition that we’re back in the world of Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien and James Cagney. And the brothers are low-key individuals, with both Roberts turning in finely crafted, understated performances, irony writ large in who’s the more corrupt. This is studded with good performances, with Burgess Meredith very effective in the role of the priest who’s sacked for his incorruptibility. If the plot isn’t particularly well managed (with a lot of explanatory strands dropped from the source novel), it’s atmospheric and beautifully shot by the great Owen Roizman – the blood looks like blood, whether fresh, dried or caked on corpses and it ain’t pretty. Taking inspiration from the notorious real-life Black Dahlia murder it’s another gaze at the flipside of fame with the young victim a wannabe actress turned prostitute encountering the brutal sleaze that’s a world away from onscreen cinematic glory (supposedly). Scored by the great Georges Delerue who riffs on Carrickfergus to emphasise the Irish aspect of Catholicism, this is always a work of referentiality: the wedding scene at the Amsterdam estate nods to The Godfather; the mortuary scenes remind us of Chinatown, that other neo-noir; but it’s neither as deep nor as wide, it ploughs its own particular furrow about religion, depravity, loneliness and death. Directed by Ulu Grosbard whose wife Brenda Samuels plays the touching figure of Rose Gregorio. You’re my confessor in here but you wheel and deal out there, is that it?

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

I’m not in love with you any more. Ex-litigator Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) leaves his three gifted children in their adolescent years and winds up in prison for fraud then returns to them after they have grown, falsely claiming he has a terminal illness when he’s thrown out of the hotel whose bills he cannot meet. He insinuates himself back into the family home where his archaeologist wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) is dating accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Maths whiz and business genius Chas (Ben Stiller) is a widower who survived the plane crash that killed his wife the previous year and moves his sons Ari (Grant Rosenmeyer) and Uzi (Jonah Meyerson) back to the family home convinced their apartment is too dangerous. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a depressive playwright who hasn’t had a play produced in seven years. She is married to older neurologist Raleigh St Clair (Bill Murray) who doesn’t know any of her secrets. Formerly successful tennis player Richie (Luke Wilson) is on a neverending world cruise following a disaster on court. When he realises he’s in love with Margot, his adopted sister he contacts their neighbour Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) a lecturer and popular novelist who himself starts romancing Margot but dabbles in drugs. Royal’s arrival coincides with each family member enduring a crisis that seems insurmountable and living together again brings things to a head …  This illness, this closeness to death… it’s had a profound affect on me. I feel like a different person, I really do. Flat symmetrical compositions with intricate production design and little camera movement. Ironic soundtracks. Blunt wit. At first glance Wes Anderson’s films might feel too contrived:  highly stylised yet with an inimitable tone, destined forever for the shelf labelled Quirk. This is reminiscent of Salinger with its NYC setting, big brownstones, a dysfunctional family full of supposed eccentrics and is openly influenced by Le feu follet and The Magnificent Ambersons. At first glance it’s rambling and lacking construction. But at the centre of it is a performance of paternal dysfunction by Gene Hackman that’s genuinely great – but even that appears to deflect from the roles played by his children.  They are a prism by which this deceitful man’s life is viewed. Hence the title.  It was written for him against his wishes, says Anderson. There is an undertow of sadness reflected by the repetition of Vince Guaraldi’s theme from TV’s Charlie Brown series (and what an extraordinary soundtrack underpins this bittersweet comic drama, with everyone from The Clash to Elliott Smith busy expressing those sentiments the characters refuse). It’s a determinedly literary experience with Alec Baldwin’s voiceover ensuring that even if we miss the beautiful Chapter Titles (because this is based on a non-existent book…) we are always anchored in a sprawling narrative with its endearing cast of characters. In truth these are people who are unsuccessful adults, mired in grief, lost in unrequited love (inspiring two suicide attempts), depression and psychological problems, constantly beset by memories of childhood achievements they cannot reproduce in the real world.  Faking it. It is a work of profound sadness and understanding. Just look at the pictures. Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson. I wish you’d’ve done this for me when I was a kid

Z (1969)


He is alive. Greece, the 1960s. Doctor Gregorios Lambrakis (Yves Montand) leader of the opposition is injured during an anti-military/nuclear demonstration in an incident that causes his death. The government and army are trying to suppress the truth – their involvement with a right-wing organisation in a covert assassination. But they don’t control the hospital where Lambrakis is brought and the autopsy reveals the cause of death. Then tenacious Examining Magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is determined to not to let them get away with it despite every witness getting beaten up en route to his office … Always blame the Americans. Even if you’re wrong. Adapted from Vassilis Vassilikos’ 1966 novel by Greek-born director Costa-Gavras and Jorge Semprun (with uncredited work by blacklisted Ben Barzman), this political thriller gained its frisson and urgency from its lightly fictionalised portrayal of recent events in Greece which this more or less accurately depicts. Nowadays its style is commonplace but its skill in evoking the dangers of the official version and the suppression of free speech is more important than ever. Inspired by real-life events, including the ‘disappearing’ of opposition Moroccan politician Mehdi Ben Barka in Paris in 1965, with a surgical reference to JFK, the beauty of the construction is in having Montand’s experiences including with wife Helene (Irene Papas) dominating the first half, while the second is about the steady work of investigation carried out by Trintignant, who winds up unmasking a conspiracy at the highest level. Beautifully shot by Raoul Coutard and scored by Mikis Theodorakis. Tough, taut, suspenseful filmmaking that is exciting and dreadful simultaneously, speaking truth to power about corruption, passionate engagement and the casual use of street thugs to commit murder for the state. There is even room for humour as Trintignant insists on treating the officers like anyone else when they are indicted and each one of them believes him to be a Communist when in fact his right wing credentials are impeccable. In real life the military junta came to power and banned the venerable Papas, who was a member of the Communist Party:  she wasn’t the only one of course but she survived to celebrate her 94th birthday on 3rd September last. Essential cinema. Why do the ideas we stand for incite such violence?

A Man and a Woman (1966)


Aka Un homme et une femme. If I had to go through this again what would I do? Widowed script girl Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimee) travels from her home in Paris to Deauville to visit her little girl Francoise (Souad Amidou) at boarding school in Deauville. She accepts a lift back with racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc who is a widower visiting his little boy Antoine (Antoine Sire). A friendship blossoms into romance but she can’t tell him her husband Pierre (Pierre Barouh) is dead and speaks of Pierre in the present tense, confusing their perceptions of each other. His wife Valerie (Valerie Lagrange) committed suicide when she saw him in a near-fatal accident and believed he died. But he survived. Now when he races in icy conditions on the Riviera in the Monte Carlo rally Anne watches the coverage on the radio (voiced by presenter Gerard Sire, father of Antoine) and sends him a telegram saying she loves him and he drives back north in his Mustang to see her  …  Why? Just your everyday story of a widowed script girl meeting cute with a widowed racing driver. From this slim premise evolved a glorious melodrama. Two of the most beautiful people to ever grace the earth in a romantic movie about movie-making and romance: this is how the Nouvelle Vague was repackaged and commercialised by writer/director Claude Lelouch and it was a cultural phenomenon in its day, a Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film and Original Screenplay as well as a huge box office success on both sides of the Atlantic. Shot quickly with just seven crew on a low budget, the flashy techniques were born of necessity. Different black and white film stocks were used until an American distributor contributed more money upfront enabling Lelouch to buy colour film. The old cameras used had to be covered in blankets to protect them from wintry damp – there was a lot of rain on those supposedly exotic resort locations: the antithesis of glamour. Yet did any actors ever wear sheepskin coats so well?! Trintignant was on board first and it was he who suggested Aimee as his co-star when Lelouch asked him who would be his ideal woman. They were old friends. When she closes her eyes during their scenes of radiant intimacy she paradoxically creates an even more empathetic heroine, this woman who can’t come to terms with her husband’s death.  This is always about how the mind works to permit people to fall in love in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy. Danger underlines everything – these men who love Anne dally with it in their daily occupations. Hope is a little beyond her, the future unthinkable.  Isn’t death the ultimate subject of all art? The film’s conclusion was kept secret from Aimee:  that’s real surprise registering on her gravely luminous face. The score by Francis Lai is simply unforgettable. It was written before the production commenced and Lelouch used playback during the scenes to inspire the performers who where encouraged to improvise their dialogue. Lelouch said of working with Trintignant: I think Jean-Louis is the actor who taught me how to direct actors. We really brought each other a lot. He changed his method of acting while working with me, and I began to truly understand what directing actors was all about, working with him. I think the relationship between a director and actor is the same relationship as in a love story between two people. One cannot direct an actor if you do not love him or her. And he cannot be good if he or she does not love you in turn.  How astonishing has Trintignant been in the evolution of contemporary romantic dramas? Starting with And God Created Woman, A Man and A Woman, through Amour, he is the cornerstone of how we perceive the male psyche from the 1950s onwards. He will celebrate his 90th birthday December 2020. Co-written with Pierre Uytterhoeven. Not just a film, this is a landmark in cinema. If you ever find yourself in Deauville you can book into the suite named for the film at the Hotel Barriere Le Normandy. Some Sundays start well and end badly

Crossfire (1947)

He’s just one guy. We don’t get them very often. But he grows out of all the rest.  When he is called in to investigate the brutal murder of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene), who was found dead at his home, police investigator Captain Finlay (Robert Young) discovers there may be a murderer among a group of demobilized soldiers, who had been seen with Samuels and his female friend at a hotel bar that night. Meanwhile, Sergeant Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum), concerned that his friend Mitchell (George Cooper) may be the prime suspect, decides to investigate the murder to clear his friend’s name. To both investigators, each suspected soldier relays his version of that night through flashback. The first to step up is Montgomery (Robert Ryan) who reveals himself to be anti-semitic; the others are Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie), Mitchell and a potential witness, Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame). While Finlay and Keeley slowly piece together the fragments of that night, there is one possible motive that may have driven the killer to beat an innocent to death, which prompts Finlay to set up a trap to expose the killer…. You can tell a lot about a man by how he don’t respect the service. Adapted from future writer/director Richard Brooks’ controversial novel The Brick Foxhole but of course anti-semitism wasn’t the book’s subject – that would be homophobia, unmentionable as a perversion in those heady days of the Hays Code, as was the issue of inchoate violence among demobbed GIs. John Paxton’s exemplary screenplay still tells a great story with flashbacks used to illuminate the mindset of the killer on the run, with Ryan brilliantly embodying the murderer and Mitchum’s outwardly dozy persona deployed to good effect:  Instead of the purple heart we get purple ink. Brodie makes a good impression as the fall guy. It wears its politics on its sleeve with plenty of on-the-nose dialogue particularly from Young:  Hating is always the same. Always senseless. Yet it falls right. He gets a great speech about how there’s always a minority targeted for hatred and regales a story about his own ancestor, an Irish Catholic murdered for emigrating from the Famine and establishing a home in the US. Effectively a pursuit film – a disguised western, if you will – everyone knows whodunnit and the chase just gives him time to talk himself into a hangman’s noose. Made at a turbulent time for the industry, this B movie astonished many by being nominated for an Academy Award. An outstanding example of the message movie, dealing with the thorny issue of what GIs yet to be discharged from WW2 service were up to with tensions running high in the changing post-war world, every woman potentially a femme fatale:  Grahame excels as the tough lady men want to have ruin them. We’re too used to fightin’ but we just don’t know what to fight. Produced by Adrian Scott (the son of Irish Catholics) and directed by Edward Dmytryk both of whom suffered differently in the wake of the HUAC hearings that this film ironically helped bring about – both were blacklisted among the Hollywood Ten, but in 1951 Dmytryk gave people up in order to work again. They had previously collaborated with Paxton on Murder My Sweet, Cornered and So Well Remembered.  After this landmark production, RKO fired them. Scott moved to Europe and wife Anne Shirley wrote him a ‘Dear John’ letter, marrying another screenwriter, Charles Lederer. Scott’s next wife, Joan, provided a front for him to get work pseudonymously, mainly in British TV. He died at the age of 61. Ryan would star for Dmytryk in the wonderful western The Professionals 19 years later. Dmytryk died at the age of 90 in 1999. I don’t like Jews and I don’t like nobody who likes Jews