Sunday, November 27, 2011

Spanish Maids, French Priests and Crazy Siblings

In October and November, I saw two films at the YBCA.

Diary of a Country Priest starring Claude Laydu; directed by Robert Bresson; French with subtitles; (1951)
Love Streams starring Gena Rowlands & John Cassavetes; directed by John Cassavetes; (1984)

Diary of a Country Priest is a celebrated film. It lost the Golden Lion Award at the 1951 Venice Film Festival to Kurosawa's Rashōmon.

Country Priest is a lean and spartan film. Set in Ambricourt, a small town in the French countryside, the new parish priest (Claude Laydu) encounters apathy, hostility and disinterest from his parishoners. Determined if not enthusiastic, the priest attempts to overcome their detachment, his own physical ailments and spiritual doubts to minister to their secular needs. He is unable to overcome these obstacles. Indeed, his limited diet of bread soaked in wine gives rise to rumors of alcoholism. Laydu, who was devoutly Catholic, fasted during the filming to achieve the pallid appearance of the dying priest.

The priest suffers quietly through the indignities and calamities until the end when faced with his mortality. This gives the film a somber and introspective mood which can be difficult to sustain. I'm Bresson was up to the task but I wasn't. My attention flagged towards the end although the films finale was memorable and heart-rending.


My attention also flagged during John Cassavetes's Love Stream. The loosely plotted film features a tremendous performance by Gena Rowlands as Sarah, a woman with some type of attachment disorder. She goes around visiting sick & dying relatives with her young daughter in tow. She is prone to fainting when faced with separation from her family and loved ones.

After her divorce, she goes to stay with her brother Robert (John Cassevetes). Robert, a fiction writer, favors gay bars, is a staggering alcoholic and incapable of accepting responsibiity. The two develop a quick codependency. It's interesting to see the interaction between Robert and Sarah, brother and sister in the film but husband and wife in reality.

A few scenes are quite funny such as Robert driving drunk and Sarah buying two minature horses, a goat, a dog and some fowl. For most of the 2 hour, 20 minute duration, there was a lot dialog without much in the way of plot development. That's a hallmark of Cassavetes' films so I wasn't surprised.


I also saw The Women on the 6th Floor at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

The Women on the 6th Floor starring Fabrice Luchini & Natalia Verbeke; directed by Philippe Le Guay; French & Spanish with subtitles; (2010)

Also titled Service Entrance, the film is set in Paris in the early 1960s. Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) is a wealthy stockbroker who owns a six story apartment building. The concierge is on the ground floor; he, his family and other wealthy tenants occupy the other floors. That is except the sixth floor which is more like an attic. That floor has been subdivided into small bedrooms for maids in the building and neighborhood.

At the beginning of the film, the long-time Joubert family maid leaves due to personal conflict with Mrs. Joubert (Sandrine Kiberlain). Noting a trend towards Spanish maids, the Jouberts hire Maria (Natalia Verbeke), a beautiful and intelligent new arrival with a built-in support network since her aunt has been a domestic in Paris for many years. Maria quickly wins over the fussy Jean-Louis who likes his morning boiled for precisely 3½ minutes. Mrs. Joubert appears more formidable but is more interested in her bourgeois pursuits.

As it turns out, Maria's the most well adjusted of what becomes an unrequited love triangle. As Jean-Louis becomes attracted to Maria, his behavior and attitude change to the point where his wife believes him to be having an affair with a wealthy divorcée who is a client of his. Rather than deny the accusation, Jean-Louis takes the opportunity to break free from his regimented life. He moves up to the sixth floor and lives among the maids. The social barriers are so entrenched that his wife isn't even aware he has moved up there.

I won't give away the ending but will say I found the film delightful. It required some disbelief as Maria is presented as a stunningly attractive, poised and well adjusted young woman. Also, the fastidious Jean-Louis undergoes a startling personality change. Putting that aside, The Women on the 6th Floor is a well made romantic comedy which comments on serious issues of attitudes towards immigrants and class warfare. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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