Jul 7, 2010

Mini-Reviews: July 5th and 6th 2010

DIR: Claude Chabrol

Chabrol is best known for his (many) murder mysteries, but this Georges Simenon adaptation is a relatively rare foray into straight drama. It follows the titular Betty (Marie Trintignant), a drunk who, having been discovered by her husband while having sex with another man, has been forced out of her home and bribed by her in laws to accept money, effectively selling her access to her children. Staggering drunk one night, she is picked up by Laure (Chabrol's ex wife Stephane Audran), a widow who takes her in, treating her almost as a daughter.

Betty is essentially a character study, with flashbacks filling in the details of how Betty has ended up where she is. In a character study you need exceptional performers, and in his two leads Chabrol has them. Trintignant is exceptional, playing a drunk without resorting to the hammy cliches that so many actors would bring to the part and allowing us to if not like then certainly empthise with Betty (a huge ask, given that in the first scene she tells us that she has recently sold her children).

Audran, who by this time was long divorced from Chabrol, shines under her ex-husband's direction. Laure sometimes has the glacial quality that Audran often brought to her work for Chabrol, but in her interaction with Betty there is also a welcome and slightly unexpected warmth. There's a lot going on with Laure that we don't get to see (the film is called Betty after all), but Audran manages to give this fading beauty dignity and depth.

The only real problem with the film, which is riveting and beautifully acted, is its ending, which doesn't quite ring true. The optimism may be welcomed after such a bleak film, but it dos feel jst a little forced. Still, this is yet another very high quality piece of work from Chabrol, and all the more impressive for being outside his comfort zone.

DIR: Harry O. Hoyt

Though, with its largely static camerawork and somewhat overblown acting, this film was in some ways behind the curve even on its release 85 years ago there are still things about it that are absolutely astonishing.

Chief among those things is the stop motion animation work of Willis O'Brien (who would later animate King Kong). The models may be rather crude, but the animation is not. O'Brien's dinosaurs have personality, and the intricacy of their motion (watch them breathing, or look at the way the eyes move) is breathtaking. The animation is also crudely, but effectively (and for the first time) combined with live action footage in several genuinely groundbreaking and still very exciting sequences. It may be crude, but I'll take O'Brien's models over the weightless CGI puppets we have today any day of the week.

There are other things to recommend the film; a blustering performance from Wallace Beery as the rather magnificently bearded Professor Challenger, the sweetly pretty Bessie Love (basically taking what would later become the Fay Wray part) and the overall insight into how cinema was developing in the mid 20's all held my attention. The full verion of this film (106 minutes) is likely lost, but the 93 minute print I saw was gorgeous, full of depth and detail (and on VHS too) and doesn't feel too badly truncated. It's well worth a look.

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