Saturday, February 08, 2020

letterboxd backup (8)

Hallo Janine, Carl Boese, 1939

An ersatz hollywood backstage musical leading up to an ersatz Busby Berkeley dance spectacle. The latter is better than I thought it would be, as is the oft-repeated theme song - just a tiny bit jazzier than one would expect Goebbels to be okay with. Still, I don`t know what to make of the whole thing. Everything flows smoothly and there are a few very nice scenes - the rapid-fire introduction of the dancing girls, Rökk and Godden making up a shared childhood on the spot, an intriguing Edith Meinhard in much too small a role, smiling through tears - but the central romance feels off, more like a business merger than something based on mutual attraction (which could be interesting in a film much smarter than this one).

In the beginning Rökk`s power-acting kind of intrigued me, but in the end I couldn`t relate to her - always the same slick professionalism (yes, she really can tapdance, but her show routines feel like they address the jury of a sporting event, not a live audience), always the same upbeat attitude towards life. Embodied feasibility. Heesters is more intriguing in theory, much darker, but well, he is just an unredeemable asshole in this one.

He plays a composer. In one scene, he transforms the anger of his girlfriend into the lyrics of another hit song, just like Fritsch does in LEICHTE MUSE. In nazi cinema, music doesn`t correspond to feelings, but displaces them.

Tai-Chi Master, Yuen Woo-ping, 1993

The joyful vulgarity of some of the earlier Yuen films I`ve seen is toned down a bit here. This feels less lived-in, more synthetic, but in the end it doesn`t matter much because the almost non-stop action scenes are as original and varied as ever and Jet Li is a force of nature (Fennie Yuen is my favorite among the supporting cast, her death scene is brutal). The dynamic between the two leads works very well, too, despite being set up in just a few very short scenes. In a way it`s a story about two fools hell-bent on self-mutilation, but disagreeing on how best to reach this goal. The last time they`re truly happy together is when they jointly smash bricks on their own forehead.

The "revelation scene" with the Tai-Chi scripture, the ball and the pond is a hilarious bit of pop philosophy.

Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Toni (Walter Janssen) is a composer. While trying out a melody on the piano, his gaze wanders towards the open window, butterflies flutter over gardenias, the music floats over into the outside world, filling the streets, activating a few passersby, other instruments join in, a military chapel adds rhythm.


Vicky (Willi Forst) and Nicky (Oskar Karlweis) are brothers and songwriters who live together. One of their petty arguments develops into a piano standoff, each one in his own room in front of his instrument, a symmetrical framing, Vicky to the left, Nicky to the right, short bursts of melody travelling back and forth. Vicky and Nicky have a sister, who might not be their sister. They fantasize about marrying her, but in a way they always know there`s no need for that, they can be husband and wife themselves (Willi Forst is the wife, of course), if a song requires it, they can even be a whole bunch of chorus girls.

The music is not enough, Vicky tells the producer (S.Z. Sakall) of an operetta he, Nicky and Toni are working on. The music has to be rooted, he insists, in a story, in characters. In von Bolvary`s film, the opposite is true: The characters are rooted in music, and only in music. Besides the song of the moment, there`s nothing one could count on: "You, too, will betray me / you, too, will lie to me".

The libretto is nearly finished (Sakall is already ecstatic), but the waltz is still missing. When Toni meets Hedi (Gretl Theimer), the melody starts flowing, and he thinks he has finished the job. But the waltz is, in fact, inseperable from the girl, when Hedi is gone, the music is, too. She is both the only recording of the waltz and the only grammophone able to reproduce it.

High Life, Claire Denis, 2018

I had heard a lot about the craziness, but nothing about how sad this is. A film about a double loss: first, the flashbacks to earth reveal, we had to leave behind the world of grain and texture (the world of film), then we also were forced to destroy the empty, flat, digital, neon space of raw desire and primal bodies (both unhinged from tradition) that took its place. In the end, life might, once again, find a way, but this doesn't mean there's any place left to go. The taboo is back in place and in the most beautiful scene of the film Monte observes his daughter's first steps, but his own movements lead only inward.

The Descent, Neil Marshall, 2005

Hasn't lost its grip. A perfectly calibrated ghost train ride made all the more effective by the careful, slow build-up. Because the group stays together for so long, their final separation feels like a complete breakdown of all securities, a splintering of affect, world, flesh, colour, light.
The only misstep is the film's insistence on blaming Juno for everything under the sun, because it works against the film's strength, the straightforward, irresistible, irrational pull (trumping both narrative and psychological plausability) towards the deep, dark and slimy.

Little Women, Mervyn LeRoy, 1949

June Allyson jumping over the fence must be some kind of magic trick, bringing alive these prime MGM sets in ways they almost never are.

The Lone Wolf Returns, Roy William Neill, 1935

Melvyn Douglas isn't a very good playboy detective - he's way too intense. Still, I enjoyed this quite a bit, because Neill tries and largely succeeds (maybe because of his horror background) to match the narrative twistings with visual style. Lots of shadows, veils, curtains, layerings, faces slowly revealed.

Das Land des Lächelns, Max Reichmann, 1930

Operetta film framed by the performance of the operetta, starting with the arrival of the audience and some cynical banter. Even after the show starts there are frequent cuts into the audience, and there's even a storyline connecting / mirroring the stage play and two lovers in one of the boxes. The scenes of the operetta itself are very stage-bound, but not just filmed theater. Reichmann constantly switches back and forth between a purely theatrical and a more properly diegetic space. Although the film feels very basic at times, almost like early cinema, there's something intricate about the use of reverse shots, eyeline matches and doors.

In the end its all about capturing Richard Tauber's performance, and the film certainly serves well as a showcase for his abilities and even more so for the richness of the operetta genre in the 1920s as a whole (I was especially taken by Helly Kürty as Mi, in what probably was her only major film role). The songs combine an almost operatic feel with lower, filthier instincts, and while the plot of this one would elicit (completely justified) outrage today, the songs combine crass exoticism and viennese cordiality in an intriguing way. "China girl / I wish you were my Vienna girl"

The Wild Pear Tree, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2018

It peaks early, in the scene with Hatice. The exchange of flirty glances, her hair, freed from the headscarf, flooding first her face, then the whole screen. And, finally, her bite on his lip, resulting in a battle scar (a second one follows soon afterwards) a little too proudly worn by Sinan, who spends the rest of the film withering away, helplessly fighting the pull of the world to transform him into his own father.

Like all of his films, Ceylan`s new is great on a moment for moment, conversation for conversation level. He remains one of the great explorers of the modes and mechanisms of small-time pettiness and the delusions of grandeur that go along with it. There`s also a pleasantly humble feel to it, despite the long running time. A single helicopter shot when entering Sinan`s hometown for the first time is the only lofty cinematic gesture, everything else stays on eye level.

The melodramatic undercurrents are toned down this time, so much so that for a while the film feels like a rather freewheeling exploration of provincial spaces and manners (thereby mirroring the book Sinan has written, of course; there`s always an excess of structure in Ceylan`s films). But later, when Ceylan tightens the strings again and leads everything back to the father-son dynamic, something feels off. In its best moments, this is very much a film about a country entering depression (in both meanings of the word), but somehow, Ceylan`s mode of intimate, family-centered storytelling doesn`t feel quite adequate for the task.

Captain Marvel, Boden & Fleck, 2019

Casting Brie Larson as your first female solo hero when you have Scarlett Johansson in your line-up is a very Marvel thing to do. These aggressively pedestrian big budget "spectacles" really are a disgrace to an industry that used to live and breathe glamour even on poverty row.

(Ok, there’s a somewhat decent Samuel L. Jackson on autopilot performance and a few stylish Gemma Chan moments. But that’s it, really. The 90s hommage theme especially is beyond lazy.)

Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins, 2017

Post Zack Snyder superhero cinema is depressing. The Themyscira scenes in the beginning are very much in his style, and they are absolutely awesome. When things switch to the World War I setting, the air of elevated madness is gone (and the color grading gets really ugly). Thanks to the solid oldschool staging, the straightforward adventure plot and a very good Gadot who feels at home in screwball comedy just as much as in action set pieces, the film doesn’t deflate completely, but it still amounts to a frustrating normalization. Also, some of the woke posturing is really embarassing (to use native americans as stock villains is, to my mind, less insulting than to turn one of them into a mouthpiece for 21th century thinkpiece platitudes).

Trouble Every Day, Claire Denis, 2001

No idea why, especially with all the things going on here that should've impressed my younger self much more, but the only images that stayed with me clear as day from my first viewing were some of the laboratory scenes.

Ein blonder Traum, Paul Martin, 1932

Limited escapism: You want to get away from the frantic, dangerous present, from the political turmoil, from bourgeois respectability, from monogamous, strictly heterosexual love, but you only make it as far as a garden house just outside of the city limits. There, you try to build and indeed manage to sustain for a while a world of your own. In the end, though, this new world turns out to be just a less obviously repressive version of the old one. The radically different life you really desire (or maybe you just think you do) is accessible only through dreams, or momentarily, in short, fleeting glances.

As an UFA production, this is more streamlined in tone and style than the best of the operetta films of the time, but there’s a lot of joy in it nonetheless. The script is good, the songs are great, the location shooting is beautiful and Martin’s unintrusive direction serves the material well. Fritsch and Harvey were the dream couple of the time, of course, but the true center of the film is the strained friendship of Forst and Fritsch. All those double balancing acts on bicycles as well as on ladders, the constant laughing off of any tension, sexual or otherwise, the short, awkward silent moments at the end of scenes.

(Not surprisingly, I like the insecure, kind of dingy Forst much more than boring alpha Fritsch.)

Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, 2018

At least there's a a complete, largely self-sustaining vision. In the analog era, that might have been enough to make this memorable and iconic. But digital world building is less stable, and although the CGI is less random and less ugly than in other Marvel films, I don't think anything beyond the characters will resonate much in a few years.

Also, unlike CAPTAIN MARVEL, BLACK PANTHER at least (another "at least") follows through with its image politics. The fact that it succeeds in updating a black superhero aesthetics for the digital age is probably more important than all the discussions about its specific political stance (I couldn't care about this at all, maybe because I've read too much bad takes on the topic by now; to my mind Killmonger only dominates the film because Michael B. Jordan is a great actor).

All of this can't make me get over the fact that, when it comes to the filmic / dramaturgic particulars, almost nothing works. There should be a million more interestings things to do with the Wakanda setting than to turn it into the backdrop for a tired, vaguely Shakespearean royal drama. Also, the pacing is off, especially in the continent-hopping beginning, and the action set pieces might be even worse than usual - when you aim higher, you fall deeper, the car chase scene in Korea, for example, is a major atrocity.

L´armee des ombres, Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969

Rewatching this, I'm not quite sure any more if it is a good or a bad thing (or rather: what it means, aesthetically) that Melville's formal restraint and control finds, for once, justification not in itself, but in an outside force.

Either way, a masterpiece. What struck me the most this time is the short, weird scene in London, especially Ventura's short stay at the dance party. The airy, almost aquarelle colors, floating more than fixed, the hints at queerness, the exteriority of it all not only in regards to the war, but also in regards to Ventura and Melville's cinema.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Mervyn LeRoy, 1944

A slow, but steady and meitculous commitment to the war effort, without any aberrations - its just one long movement forward, and then one long movement backwards. Van Johnson's performance doesn't go one bit beyond exemplary american soldier, and there generally isn't much in terms of interpersonal dynamics (usually those are what makes LeRoy's films strong). But the low-altitude flying scenes alone make THIRTY SECONDS worth watching, and the scene after the crash landing at the Chinese coast, with the soldiers dragging themelves and each other towards a rock to form a heap of half-functioning limps and exhausted flesh, will stay with me.

Police Python 357, Alain Corneau, 1976

Eccentric and hypnotic from the start. The psychedelic chorals of George Delarue's title track lead into an arrhytmic romance - Montand and Sandrelli whirl around each other like two magnets with constantly changing polarization. Someone's always missing, or too much there, and when both are finally ready for each other, a truck bumps into Montand's car. Love not as fusion, as gliding into each other, but as a jarring motion, always at odds with the world.

When she dies, the subsequent thriller plot starts from there, from a world out of joint. While the two american films based on the source novel (THE BIG CLOCK and NO WAY OUT, both great, too) focus on the suspense dynamic of the investigator circling in on himself, Corneau takes a different route. POLICE PHYTON 357 is much more interested in the mark the murdered woman has left on the lifes of two men. Both of them had voids to fill, she didn't fit in either, but now that she's gone, the emptiness is all the more visible. Montand's dismal bachelor life and Perier's neutered vulnerability are very much the center of the film, in the constant attention to their living arrangements, but also in the way their bodys are scrutinized. The long scene with Montand at the shooting range...

One telling detail: While in NO WAY OUT, a digitally rendered image of the investigator is slowly but surely revealed, in POLICE PHYTON 357 it is the image of the woman that keeps coming back, again and again, even up to the last scene. (Is Montand's self-mutilation, the destruction of his own image=face, payback for him slapping Sandrelli earlier in the film?)

Corneau directs with wacky elegance throughout. During the sex scene, what first looks like a tear on Sandrinelli's cheek is revealed to be condensed sweat on the car window. The exquisit, crazy finale marries the manic intensity of, say, the DEATH WISH sequels with the kinetic energy of heroic bloodshed cinema. Or something like that. It's completely out there.

Innocence, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2004

Growing up in a purely metaphorical space that is, at the same time, sensually experienced as solid, organic, physical surrounding. I couldn't establish a stable relationship with this film the first time, and the second time was no different.

In 3 Tagen bist Du tot, Andreas Prochaska, 2006

Rewatch from an excellent print. Of course, almost every film is better on 35mm (including many digitally shot ones), but this was also an reminder of how unstable a medium cinema is. Small scale, low profile maintream releases like this normally get at best two to three weeks in the theater and that's it, most of them will almost never again be experienced the way they are supposed to. Or at least: the way they were born into the world of moving images.

Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, 2008

A treatise on loneliness more in love with genre tropes and affects than I remembered it to be. The color grading also, while indeed a bit oppressively scandinavian at times, is more nuanced than in my memory. Especially the way red is allowed to frequently shine through those ochre-muted blue betonscapes... most effectively when the streams of blood come running over Eli's face.

Lovely to Look At, Mervyn LeRoy, 1952

Looks absolutely stunning throughout, the color explosions and all of the dancing scenes are magnificent, but it’s not dense enough to work as a montage of attractions only. For this to truly succeed, there would’ve to be an effective emotional arc stringing things together. LeRoy comes closest to finding one in the scenes dealing with Miller’s and Grayson’s jealousy and their subsequent retreats into sober pragmatism (Miller) and private fantasy (Grayson - especially in the beautiful, intimate "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" scene). The main problem, on the other hand, is the complete lack of chemistry between the three male leads.

One scene for eternity: Miller’s first and only dance. Especially her legs: two solid, powerful, larger than life organic columns, stomping away like a perfectly tuned, alluring but ultimately inscrutable mechanism. They are clearly the center of everyone’s attention - even Miller herself seems to be only just about able to keep them under control.

Ne te retourne pas, Marina de Van, 2009

Two modes of non-identical subjectivity: Marceau painfully desintegrates, her bourgeoise shell (and star image) slowly crumbling away, while Bellucchi is a shapeshifter, constantly and smoothly gliding into new postures, embodying each one as if it would be her only, true self.

Boarding Gate, Olivier Assayas, 2007

Revisiting it now, Assayas's and Argento's sexy dystopia feels almost like retro nostalgia. I long to go back to a time when people still thought globalization was our inevitable future. And were, despite everything, pretty excited about it.

Le livre d´image, Jean-Luc Godard, 2018

In the end, the most affecting feature of Godard’s image making machine is that it just refuses to stop. What still pulls me in is the compulsive, almost psychopathological quality of his work, especially evident in the use of music, the splicing together of his favorite classical melodies and his favorite classical cinema fetishes, the believe that in these ultimately rather selfsame sounds and images, in their endless repetition, combination and recombination, still resides some hidden potential not yet realized. (I believe in this too).

On the other hand, all of this did find its natural peak in the HISTOIRE(S) and I tend to be among those who can’t see much more in his films of the last two decades than remixes of and footnotes to his greatest work. THE IMAGE BOOK might be the first one that really left me cold for much of the running time. It feels like bare-bones Godard, but not in a good way. He is no longer interested in working in and on metaphors accumulating into fluid networks of meaning, even his word-play game is rather weak this time (ok, I can’t really judge this, so let’s say, there’s at least less of it than usually). Instead he seems to go for elevated images that work like gestures, commenting on each other, pulling each other, screaming at each other, sometimes ripping each other to shreds. At its worst, THE IMAGE BOOK feels like a string of meme comments on a twitter thread. His use of various kinds of digital trash aesthetics did fascinate me for a while, but ultimately it had a similar effect.

The chapter about the arabic world clearly is the most interesting part and the only one that I have any desire to dive deeper into one day. It’s starting point and probably also one of its limitation is a strict adherence to oldschool antiimerialist politics (I’m glad he mostly stays away from Isreal, this time...), but there’s something unassured about the juxtapositions, especialy about the extremely tentative, almost clumsy insertion of his own new material. Even after repeatedly conquering the whole world in and through images, a simple shot of a busy street from a hotel balcony can present almost unsurmountable challenges.

Ein Lied, ein Kuß, ein Mädel, Geza von Bolvary, 1932

Might make a good topic for a Kittlerian probing into media history: Women and / as phonographs in early German sound cinema. Here, Marta Eggerth tries to sell hit records by basically becoming one herself.

The film is a bit similar to FRÜHJAHRSPARADE in its laid-back rhythm and its willingness (bordering on overeagerness) to completely hand over the field to the supporting cast again and again, most gloriously in the scenes with Tibor Halmay, who, among other things, excells in one of the most amazing artistic drunk performances I’ve ever seen.

Gustav Fröhlich, on the other hand, is a complete buzzkill in every scene he’s in, and a reminder that soon after this film left the cinemas, millions of young men modelled after him swooned all over Germany, both in- and outside of the screen (Fröhlich himself, unlike most other members of the cast, continued to stay at the top of the entertainment industry and wasted no time in getting rid of his jewish wife Gitta Alpar soon after the takeover).

What They Had, Elizabeth Chomko, 2018

The rather consistent sense of urban melancholia, especially in the scenes with Swank and Shannon, is just about all I could relate to in this. Aside from that, another reminder that the arrival of digital color grading might've been the single most catastrophic event in film history.

Insignificance, Nicolas Roeg, 1985

Roeg gets some almost perverse pleasures out of infusing a completely studio/stage-bound setup with visual flights of fancy. There are always enough ideas to keep things in flow. The euphoric, aggressive synch-pop cues for McCarthy's entrance might be my favorite moments in the film; the ending, while not impressing me all that much, had some images with an interesting anime feel.

In the end, though, this never transcends its probably rather terrible source material. The longer satirical dialogue scenes are almost cringeworthy and at least some of them ooze a very european kind of condescension towards mass culture and America. Ultimately, Roeg seeks truth neither in style nor in performance (the casting is terribly misguided, especially Russell and Curtis seem to have no idea what to do with their roles), but in the mechanics of a dubious historical fantasy, that comes close to blaming Auschwitz on McCarthy and Hiroshima on Einstein. While not even acknowledging that the main point of the exercise always was to take another peek under Marilyn's skirt.

Les Jeux de la Comtesse Dolingen de Gratz, Catherine Binet, 1981

An amazing oddity, decadent and high-strung in all the right ways. The film constantly switches between different narrative and enunciative layers, and although one seems somestimes to be in danger of getting lost in obscurantism, Binet's marvellous, almost arrogantly brilliant direction always stays in complete control, not the least thanks to her literary sensibility evident throughout. But at the same time, this doesn't feel concept-heavy at all, because the film leaves enough room for marvellous one-off bits like the two Argentinians singing in the train at the beginning.

Structurally, COUNTESS DOLINGEN seems to be built around an intricate, inextricable tension between concrete experience and markers of pure artificality directly opposed to or even openly hostile towards experience. On the one hand, Binet tells an intense, dark, daring, and very specific coming of age tale (including some segments exploring violent sexual fantasies no one would dare exploring today). Here, the film uses mostly unknowns (some of them, like Katia Wastchenko, who carries the bulk of the film, never to be seen again in cinema) and is all about remembering and reliving the places and gestures of early adolescence, the dynamics, glances and jealousies of a summer at the pool, and finally, the sharing of peaches with your way to old first real crush. Sensuous chewing, the juices are flowing.

On the other hand, there are a number of bizarre, decidedly unspecific, almost abstract bits and stories playing off of and ultimately decentering / denaturalizing the main storyline. Michael Lonsdale spends most of the film with his face turned away from the camera, Carol Kane seems to sleepwalk through most of her scenes, only to almost literally explode at the end... Impossible to get a handle of all that is going on here after just one viewing...

Les salauds vont en enfer, Robert Hossein, 1955

A cigarette butt getting passed from hand to hand is translated into spoons hammering away throughout a prison complex in morse code: either Macquard or Rudel, every single inmate is told, is a traitor. From the beginning, the prison is a space defined by rhythm and music. Later, a song sung by a black prisoner synthesizes the isolated faces behind the barred cell door windows into a fellowship of suffering. And when Macquard and Rudel, afraid of retribution by their fellow prisoners, decide to escape, their getaway (an expertly directed suspense scene, a perfectly calibrated arrangement of gazes and movements, order and its disruption) is both guarded by and scored to a church music performance.

They succeed in getting away. While wading through a muddy beach area, one of them is almost swallowed up by an invisible gaping depth - one of the very few scenes that play out a bit awkward, but in the end, it will have made perfectly sense. Because it tells us that they are already doomed before they even meet Eva.

In the prison, the women were confined to the imaginary, so they could stay brunette and true, while in reality they had already turned blonde and unfaithful. They even could be imitated, embodied in make-belief striptease shows performed in the prison yard. On the outside, Eva, the woman dominating the second half of the film, may start out as a picture, but she is also a bodily reality.

Though, at the same time, Marina Vlady's Eva is clearly a special effect. Her skin has a completely different texture than every other surface visible in the film. Sealed up and doll-like, but also possessing a plasticity that makes every other object feel flat.

Of course, both men are hooked right from the start, and jealousie ensues. But in the end, it is not so much about her actions, her femme fatale routines, about two men fighting and dying over a woman, but about two men encountering a woman, the first woman, Eva, and thereby learning sommething about themselves. An existentialist and psychosexual parable channeled through a stylish film noir plot. In a way Macquard and Rudel become two seperate, distinguishable beings only when confrontedd with Eva. Beforehand, they were tied to each other, both by external forces and by their mutual distrust. Now they realize they are free, because their desire for Eva opens up a moral choice: either act on it violently, or treat her as an equal.

Ironically, this new-found freedom also allows them to die together, almost happily: Now that we know Eva and therefore ourselves, let's walk away from the camera and coalesce with the beachscape. (Or rather: drown in Eva's quicksand?)

Pointe de chute, Robert Hossein, 1970

Wonderful to watch this directly after THE WICKED GO TO HELL, as both films form a perfect circle: The last shot of the earlier film showed a beachscape into which two men had just vanished; the first shot of the later film starts with almost exactly the same shot - an undistinguished greyish beachscape, that only slowly is revealed to be populated by a number of cars and swarming people.

What follows feels like an minimalist remix of the second half of THE WICKED GO TO HELL. Again, a woman is held by men in an isolated beach house (although in fact, the setting is completely abstract this time: the sea is right there, but completely unreachable all the same), again, violence and desire are unseparable. Though, this time, Hossein transforms this setup not into noiry, sex-crazed existentialism, but into a cinematic echochamber. Starting from a handfull of objects - a mask, a half-eaten sandwich, a radio device etc - triggering flashbacks, the story, accompanied by a hypnotic score, unfolds almost completely wordless, through a series of gazes and movements which are not so much happening (as a result of conscious decisions made by autonomouse subjects), but rather fall into place, filling out the missing pieces of a preordained structure. This doesn't mean that the desperation isn't real, though.

Les scelerats, Robert Hossein, 1960

A tale of two houses. On one side of the street, a french family lives a quiet, uneventful life. Not necessarily a happy and content one, but all the frictions, all the neurosis are contained, bottlet up in a few tight rooms, in a modest, claustrophobic family home. The sole street window is used for looking out, scanning the neighborhood, but it doesn't provide insights into the lives that are lived behind it.

The window of the neighborhing house, a building constructed in the modern, American way, with a huge glass front only insufficently protected by sun-blinds, are made to be looked into first, looked out of second. Or rather: if at all, because the people living in this house, a childless american couple, don't need to feed on their neighbors lifes. They provide for their own drama, because with them, everything's out in the open.

Interior design is often key in Hossein's films, and especially in this one. The film never tires of looking at the "american" home's living room, a space of many mysteries, although it's more intricate than vast. Nothing is hidden, but there's also no plain sight, just cascades of gazes: the maid looking through the serving hatch at the man of the house (Hossein), who stares at his drunk wife (Michele Morgan) who in turn gazes out into nothingness. Especially curious is the abundance of staircases, which are used as focal points of and so many stages for the dramatic events that start unfolding once the daughter of the French family next door starts working as a maid in the glass palace.

(Hossein is smooth but maybe not quite as melancholical as his role would demand, but Morgan provides enough psychodrama for both of them, anyway.)

Hossein's film, while staying true to its minimalist design throughout (whenever someone drives away from the two houses the film unfolds in, he or she inevitably ends up at the same railway crossing, as if this is all that's left of the rest of the world) cleverly shifts between different tones and genres. What starts out as a light, almost satirical comedy slowly reveals itself to be a psychological melodrama - but the mood is never as fatalistic as a plot synopsis (or the rather ill-adviced, plushy-noiry voice-over) would suggest. For most of the film, things are kept up in the air and, all things considered, both the Americans and the French profit from their new acquaintances.

Toi... le venin, Robert Hossein, 1959

A man out of nowhere (or rather, almost the same, out of television) is picked up and seduced by a mysterious blond, who keeps everything but her blonde hair and breasts in the shadow. Afterwards he tries to fill in the missing parts by entering a house inhabited by two sisters (and a grumpy maid expertly used for comedic relief). One of the sisters is played by Marina Vlady, who is wheelchair-bound and called Eva, like in LES SALAUDS VONT EN ENFER, but she is no longer a first woman, because now, there are two of them. Her sister is played by Odile Versois, and of course, both have blonde hair.

They take the man (Hossein himself) in, and, of course, the game of seduction and counterseduction, of suspicion and distraction, starts almost immediately. But what fascinates me most is that, once again, despite the minimalist setup and expert use of space (you are always provided, in all of Hossein's film, an exact spatial delimination of all the decicive elements), this doesn't really feel like a "tight narrative". The suspense elements pop up only now and then, and rather than leading up to a climax, they just accumulate. It's more about rhythm and repetition than about causes and consequences. For quite a while you get the feeling that, despite all the hysterics, both real and imagined, the two sisters and their mutual not-quite-lover could just go on with their present arrangement: three damaged lives, keeping each other in check, and getting at least some kicks out of it, sometimes. "I could eat half a horse", Versois tells us at one time.

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