The Southerner (1945)

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French master Jean Renoir’s American work may not be as lauded as his films in his native France, but this is a tremendously well told adaptation of a novel by George Sessions Perry, Hold Autumn in Your Hand,  not surprisingly when you see who wrote the screenplay:  Nunnally Johnson, Hugo Butler, William Faulkner and Renoir himself. Not too dusty. It’s the tale of the Tuckers, cotton pickers in Texas. Sam (Zachary Scott) and Nona (Betty Field), their kids Jot and Daisy, and his mother (Beulah Bondi) decide to start up their own farm with nothing but a mule and some seed. They need access to water so the neighbour Devers (J. Carrol Naish) reluctantly permits access to his own supply and after a freezing winter in which their son becomes seriously ill,  the feud escalates and involves Devers’ half-wit nephew. Devers finds Sam trying to find a huge catfish that he’s been after for years and they find a way to solve their differences. The general store owner (Percy Kilbride – Pa Kettle!) who’s refused the family credit now wants to marry Sam’s mother but a terrible storm and resultant flooding ruins their entire plot and they have to start over. This is a really great story, so well told, limpidly shot by Lucien Andriot in the San Joaquin Valley and beautifully characterised and performed by a splendid cast – it cannot be fairly described. It shouldn’t be overlooked in Renoir’s oeuvre because even if it’s not as iconic a cinematic text as The Grapes of Wrath it’s an economic and beautifully framed and shot slice of Americana and it was the director’s own favourite of his American films. Scott has never been better cast and Field is simply luminous. Bondi is … herself! Really affecting filmmaking.

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Time Out of Mind (2015)

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NYC is a frightening place, especially the first time you spend there, but I’ve rarely seen anything to equal Richard Gere urinating in the street. He exults in the disgust of a man castigating him for it, calling him an animal. Oren Moverman’s commitment to the real meant that cameras were hidden as George (Gere) went around, camouflaged in beanies and anoraks, apparently aimlessly, drifting, while the denizens do what they do to the homeless in a terrifying cacophonous din that has for the viewer the dramatic affect of tinnitus. We see George going from homeless shelter to subway, hungry, begging, experiencing the death-defying bureaucracy along the way that would drive a fine mind crazy with frustration:  he has no ID, no paperwork to get more paperwork that would get him a bed, food vouchers, comfort. Sometimes he follows a young woman (Jena Malone) who it transpires is his daughter, who disowns him. At eighty minutes into the running time he finally tells his newfound Bellevue Hospital friend (Ben Vereen) the cataclysmic series of unfortunate events that has led to him having a life on the streets. A chance reunion with trolley lady Sheila (Kyra Sedgwick) enlightens us as to how he is thrown out of an apartment at the story’s opening. Gere is very moving.  He is frequently on the edge, crying, upset and he is very touching in the role, inasmuch as the writing allows, but his character is somewhat enigmatic. There is a resolution, of a sort, in keeping with the demands of the medium. Even Ken Loach has to permit that and this is a film that is redolent of that approach. But this is far from an easy watch. Moverman and Jeffrey Caine wrote the screenplay, developed from Caine’s story. Maybe we can all have more understanding of street people as a result.