Scripts on Films (August 2016)

Michael Atkinson (The Village Voice) on Voyage to Italy: Always interested in the mystery zone between documentary and fiction, even when the “reality” in question was his own marriage, Rossellini shoots his anti-drama with impassive mobility, always maintaining a distance but constantly reframing, insisting that “real” environments impede on the characters’ perspectives. It’s a movie you have to hold on to as it wanders—it will not grab on to you—and it was loathed upon its original release, except by the Cahiers du cinéma gang. (Italian critics wowed by Fellini’s La Strada, released the same day, called for Rossellini’s retirement.) Laying the brickwork for Antonioni’s existential parables a few years to come, Voyage to Italy is close to watching actual strangers suffer loneliness despite being together. It can leave an aching bruise, but only if you’re paying attention.

Stanley Kubrick on Decalogue: The Ten Commandments: I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what’s really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don’t realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.

Film Society of Lincoln Center on Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales: In 1950, the French publisher Gallimard rejected a manuscript of a short story collection called Moral Tales, submitted by a thirty-year-old writer. In the early sixties, the writer in question—now an influential critic and a late-flowering movie director—resolved to adapt the stories for the screen, each inspired by F. W. Murnau’sSunrise, in which a man, committed to one woman, is tempted by another. The resulting series, which took a decade to complete, established Eric Rohmer’s international filmmaking reputation. Thrillingly intelligent portraits of self-centered, articulate, often foolish men and the women they belittle, idolize, stalk, and long for, staged with offhand visual imagination and full of electrifying, high-stakes verbal showdowns, the six Moral Tales represented an entirely new way of handling male-female relationships on screen.

None of the tales are chiding or moralizing (“It would be nonsense to believe that I am proposing a moral of some kind,” Rohmer once said of them), but they all show a distinctive willingness to expose their characters’ insecurities and pretentions—to put their male heroes through punishing educations. Taken together, these films are a kind of proving ground for Rohmer and his collaborators, including the producer Barbet Schroeder, the cinematographer Néstor Almendros, and the many vital, intellectually driven actors who found in them the space to develop new ways of playing out their characters’ debates and indecisions. They still remain the films most associated with Rohmer, and most representative of his many contradictory traits as a filmmaker: strict and yet playful, conservative and sensual, reticent but always ready to judge.

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