Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Adventures in Moviegoing is a series on the Criterion Channel in which a creative — often but not exclusively a director — selects some of their favorite films and records introductions for them. I’ve been working my way through the films Guillermo Del Toro selected (none of which I had previously seen) for the past three weeks. So far, my favorite has been Eyes Without a Face, an aurally brilliant and emotionally complex horror film that I will not forget for some time.
Eyes Without a Face opens with successful French plastic surgeon Doctor Génessier mourning the death of his daughter, Christiane. But we soon learn that a car accident didn’t kill Christiane, but instead severely disfigured her face. Now Doctor Génessier and his former patient-turned-assistant Louise kidnap young women and take the skin off of their faces in an attempt to heal Christiane, who wears an eerie mask to hide her scars and grows angry with her father…
One of my favorite things about Eyes Without a Face is its score. Maurice Jarre composed it, and would go on to create music for the crowd-pleasing triumphs Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Glory (1989). His score for this movie creates a delightfully spooky atmosphere that makes what is, at its heart, an upsetting story easier to watch. At the same time, director Georges Franju knows exactly when not to use Jarre’s exuberantly ghoulish music. One memorable example is the infamous “surgery scene,” in which he accentuates the horror with pure silence.
In addition to its excellent style (I could write paragraph after paragraph about its cinematography), this film succeeds so brilliantly because of the complex emotions Franju creates. We empathize with Christiane, who seems like a type of fairy tale heroine trapped in a cruel and unusual castle, but never doubt that her father loves her, even as he commits horrible crimes to restore her face. This inability to hate any character too much because of their complex humanity makes the film a kind of strange cousin to fellow French classic The Rules of the Game (1939), which features the famous quote, “The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.”
Eyes Without a Face has influenced more directors than Del Toro, who included an homage to it in his first feature film Cronos (1993). Examples include John Carpenter (Christiane’s mask influenced the one that Michael Myers wears in Halloween ), Pedro Almodóvar (especially his 2011 film The Skin I Live In), as well as former blog contributor Caleb Allison, who directed this excellent homage to it. Let’s hope the film’s mixture of technical brilliance and complicated emotions continues to influence many more filmmakers.
Jack Miller, contributor | Two English Girls (1971)
I fear that the old master François Truffaut may be becoming a little unfashionable these days. A favorite among the early auteurist critics and a core staple of any introductory film studies course for at least a half-century, the director of The 400 Blows (1959) and several other Nouvelle Vague classics now seems to be accorded less respect and serious discussion than his contemporaries Godard, Rohmer, and Rivette, especially by the young cinephiles of my own generation. Perhaps this change in tide has come about due to the perception of Truffaut many people carry in their minds, a reputation that he himself helped to cultivate: of all the New Wave filmmakers, he’s the one that’s most often remembered for a kind of humanist, Gallic warmth, an heir apparent to the generous, romantic spirit of Jean Renoir, but lacking in the political and formal radicalism that’s so in vogue these days. This reputation really only shows us a fraction of the truth about Truffaut the artist, and in fact it’s in his later works of the ‘70s and ‘80s that we begin to see a colder, darker, more resolutely personal strain of filmmaking running through his work.
A great example of this mysterious, darker energy in Truffaut is his marvelous 1971 film Two English Girls, a belated companion piece of sorts to his buoyant, romantic classic Jules et Jim (1962), but one that’s haunted by the spectre of illness and death. Adapted from a novel by Henri-Pierre Roché (who also wrote the source material for the earlier film), Two English Girls is a period piece set around the turn of the century about a handsome young Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who falls in love with two sisters (Kika Markham, Stacey Tendeter) during a summer vacation on the coast of Wales. Léaud’s aggressive voiceover narration becomes a key feature of this supremely literary and reflexive work, and some of the meticulous compositions on display reveal Truffaut’s relationship with his master, Alfred Hitchcock. This wonderful, major filmmaker continues to deserve our attention and respect.
Note: trailer contains a moment of brief nudity.
Michaela Owens, Editor | Foul Play (1978) and Seems Like Old Times (1980)
For me, there is nothing cozier than a good comedy from the ’70s or ’80s. There is just something about those two decades that elicits this warm, comfy feeling, like a big cable-knit sweater on a crisp day. I’m talking films like Clue, Roxanne, Silver Streak, The Princess Bride, even Beetlejuice. This month, thanks to TCM’s Summer Under the Stars day dedicated to Goldie Hawn, I discovered two more to add to my list: Foul Play and Seems Like Old Times. Hawn’s co-star in these films is Chevy Chase, which seems odd if you know anything about either actor. Onscreen, though, they become the screen duo you never knew you wanted, her bubbly bombshell persona meshing beautifully with his more cynical, rough-around-the-edges goofiness.
A comedy-thriller brimming with nods to Hitchcock, Foul Play finds Hawn playing a librarian who stumbles into an elaborate assassination plot and receives police protection from Chase’s detective. While there are some dated aspects here, there are so many things I loved about this film, but I’ll just single out two: Dudley Moore’s uproarious performance as a hapless man who keeps running into Hawn at the most unexpected moments, and a 71-year-old Burgess Meredith (playing Hawn’s sweet landlord) rescuing our leading man and lady after a karate battle with one of the villains. If just reading the last part of that sentence doesn’t make you giggle, I’m sorry, something is wrong with you.
Two years after the success of Foul Play, Hawn and Chase reteamed for the Neil Simon-scripted Seems Like Old Times, a screwball comedy about a writer (Chase) who is forced to do a robbery and then hides out in the home of his lawyer ex-wife (Hawn) and her oblivious district-attorney husband (Charles Grodin). As is typical of Neil Simon, the antics and dialogue here are fast and witty, highlighting just how fantastic Hawn, Chase, and Grodin are as comedic performers. The film is less of a romantic comedy than Foul Play is, but there are still plenty of sparks between exes Hawn and Chase — which are only amplified by the ambiguous freeze-frame ending — and both films are more than enough evidence of how these two performers became such big stars.
Note: the trailer for Foul Play is truly terrible, so I’ve selected a tribute video instead that better showcases all of the film’s aspects. It is also set to the hit song that came from Foul Play, Barry Manilow’s “Ready to Take a Chance Again,” which may or may not be a deterrent for you.