Wednesday, December 31, 2014

We Were Strangers, John Huston, 2015

The first half feels like most of the Huston films I've seen: Great if somewhat simplistic tough guy cinema marred by various prestige trappings. In the second half, though, the trappings disappear - or maybe rather: become perfectly translucent. The dialogue's still terribly pompous, the political furor is still phony as hell - in fact, the "revolution" in the end might be the single most phony revolution ever staged by Hollywood (the street scenes are almost as bizarre as the climax of McTiernan's masterpiece maudit Rollerball, but unfortunately here they lack all sense of their own outlandishness and are therefore pretty worthless beyond symptomatic readings). But how could this hurt a film to which a shot of Jennifer Jones' face being illuminated only by the muzzle flash of a machine gun comes perfeclty naturally? As does, by the way, shots of John Garfield lighting a stick of dynamite with his cigarette. Garfield might be the best proof of the (in itself quite interesting, and maybe career-long) mismatch of director and sujet: in terms of the narrative and its psychological structure he's completely unbelievable, but as "body-in-front-of-the-camera" he's pitch perfect in almost every single shot.

The best shot of the film comes earlier, about halfway through, during one of the first really intense scenes: A very close framing of Jones' head leaning against Garfield's shoulder, her face being (I think) turned away from the camera. The world around them, which is rather unstable to begin with (made even more unstable by the almost constant use of rear projections, a technique which clashes weirdly with Russell Metty's faux documentary cinematography), slips away completely. And suddenly they talk about a possible future, a future which is very obviously a future outside of this film (outside of the reach of this film). What can become of them after this (whatever this is, whatever this will turn out to be, whatever this will have been)? Maybe marriage, he says, touchingly helpless, a house, kids.

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