Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Bigamist and The Wild Child

On Sunday, I trekked over to Berkeley to see The Bigamist (1953) as part of Film on Film Foundation's "Lupino Noir" double feature. The second half of the program was Outrage but I was tired and had an early meeting on Monday so I skipped it.

The first thing I noticed was that I have already seen this film. It screened almost 3 years ago as part of the Balboa Theater's Reel San Francisco series. The film starred Edmond O'Brien, Joan Fontaine and Ida Lupino (who also directed). Much of the film was filmed and set in San Francisco.

The title tells the story - O'Brien has two wives - one in SF (Fontaine) and the other in LA. The story attempts to cast O'Brien in sympathetic light although he committed adultery, fathered a child out of wedlock and eventually committed bigamy out of sympathy for Lupino's mousy but brassy character. It put some of the blame on Fontaine's character, not just a wife but a business partner. She's hard-charging in the boardroom and barren in the bedroom. Overall, the film was dated and I didn't feel much sympathy for O'Brien. If you knock a woman up, you divorce your wife, you get an abortion or you pay child support but you don't commit bigamy (even in 1953).

The emcee shared a story that could only happen in Hollywood. Lupino was married to The Bigamist's screenwriter, Collier Young. Lupino divorced Young in 1951. Prior to the filming of The Bigamist, Young and Joan Fontaine were married; so the lead actresses had a real-life relationship that bizarrely resembled the plot. It's amazing that the three could or would work together; especially with Lupino as the director.


On Wednesday, I saw The Wild Child or L'Enfant Sauvage. This 1970 French film (with English subtitles) was directed by and starred Francois Truffaut. Based on a true story from 1798, the plot involves a 12 year old boy that is discovered by some villagers. The boy is nude and has seemingly lived in the wild all his life. His story catches the attention of Parisian Dr. Itard (Truffaut). He arranges for the boy to live with him so he can conduct experiments on the boy's ability to integrate into society. Some think the boy is a savage that should be locked away but Itard thinks he can teach the boy social and language skills.

The rest of the film follows the ups and downs of teaching Victor (the name give to the boy) and how Itard and Victor (and their housekeeper) learn personal lessons on the meaning of humanity.

The film is slow-paced and looks like a flim from the 1970's but it's clearly a labor of love for Truffaut. His daughter says he played the lead role because he didn't want an actor between him and the film. Jean-Paul B as Victor delivers the payoff performance - he runs around naked in the woods for the first part of the film and throws temper tantrums for the second half of the film. A few scenes such as him looking balefully at the moon to convey his sense of isolation, his frolicking in the rain to show his comfort with the outdoors and his inability to steal a chicken to represent his partial integration into human society make the film a small and gentle masterpiece.


I saw The Wild Child at the Landmark Opera Plaza. I saw some postcards for Tokyo Sonata, a well-regarded Japanese film that has been making the festival circuit. It played at this year's Cinequest and will play at SFIAAFF. Although I didn't see an announcement, I suspect Tokyo Sonata will get a run at a Landmark Theater.


Through March 11, I'm averaging $7.66 per program or film. I've seen 77 films since January 1, 2009. January through March is the busy period for film festivals in San Francisco; at least it is for me. January is Noir City, February is IndieFest and March is the Asian American Festival. The most popular festival in SF is the International Film Festival in April. I usually skip the festival because the crowds are so large, I'm burnt out by April and many of the films get distributed after the festival or get picked up by other local festivals.

No comments: