The Innocent

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/17/23;
Criterion;
Drama;
Box Office $34,822;
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Louis Garrel, Roschdy Zem, Noémie Merlant, Anouk Grinberg, Jean-Claude Pautot.

Louis Garrel was born with filmmaking in his blood. Grandpa Maurice Garrel was a prolific stage and screen actor who cut his teeth behind the footlights before making the move to cinema, where he racked up 147 credits to his name. His mother, Brigitte Sy, was an actress and director, but it was dad, writer, editor, and director Philippe Garrel who gave 5-year-old Louis his first shot in front the camera. The Innocent is Louis’ fourth feature as a director. With the exception of two of Louis’ films as an actor (The Dreamers, Rifkin’s Festival), The Innocent is my first introduction to the Garrels, and while it’s not wise to judge a film by its genealogy, The Innocent left me lacking the curiosity needed to explore more titles hanging from the family tree.

Abel’s (Garrel) initial fears over his mother Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) marrying convict Michel (Roschdy Zem) are allayed when his stepdad presents him with a quick, but hopelessly illegal, manner in which to pick up a stack of spending money. Sounds good, but much of the blame for my lack of enthusiasm over the storytelling can be found in the “Meet the Filmmakers” interview contained in the special features. A 17-minute talk with the younger Garrell confirms many apprehensions.

It was during an opening night performance of Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia that I learned an essential lesson in cinematic appreciation. A gentleman seated in the row behind was taken aback by one of the cars in the picture. How did I know the auto was the exact same make and model as one owned by his uncle? Because the nitz made sure to remind his cohort every time the car appeared in frame. I was 18 the night the film debuted and already aware that only imbeciles, weaned on television, carry on running conversations at the movies. That lesson was first instilled when mom turned and shushed the couple on the aisle who couldn’t keep from yakking during a matinee performance of Help! It was the chatterbox at Alfredo Garcia who first planted the seed that the least important part of appreciating a movie was personal identification and that anyone who goes to a movie simply to experience life as they know it would best be served standing before a mirror.

One can only wish that Garrel had a similar experience. “Up until the age of 25,” he confessed, “if the movie was not autobiographical, I was not interested.” By his own admission, Garrel devoted many years as an actor to playing himself. What’s changed? As a director, he had the good sense to hire a vigilant cinematographer (Julien Poupard). As an actor, his performance packs as much tang as a bowl of cottage cheese. Screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, That Obscure Object of Desire) was his mentor, but Garrel is a safe distance from Luis Buñuel. Don’t you hate when a character riffles through a drawer in search of a pencil only to coincidentally stumble across the murder weapon? Why did Abel put on Michel’s jacket if for no other reason than to establish a gun planted in his breast pocket? For that matter, why would an experienced criminal attending a party leave a gun in his pocket unattended to begin with?

According to Garrel, a film must be surprising even if its execution defies logic. Everything presented toward the beginning of the picture — from the recording device in a dog collar and the gun tucked in Michel’s leather coat to a prison acting class — amounts to little more than two-reels of clumsy, wall-to-wall foreshadowing waiting to mirror and inform the final third of the film. The pacing and structure skip around like a tennis ball in the spin cycle. Abel, a tour guide at an oceanarium, gets his co-worker and semi love interest Clémence (Noémie Merlant) involved in Michel’s nefarious dealings. Knowing that Michel is lunching with goons, Clémence enters the cafe while Abel waits in the car. Think L.B. Jeffries, with binoculars in hand, watching helplessly as Lisa breaks into Thorwald’s apartment in Rear Window. (Prior to this, Abel drives around spying on his stepfather backed by a vertiginous Bernard Herman string section.) Clémence and Michel have never met, yet he makes her the second she walks through the door. This must be one of those logic-defying moments Garrel warned us about. And how does one explain two lightweight sing-alongs better suited to a Sandra Bullock comedy?

On the plus-side, there’s Poupard’s exceptional location work, split scene bursts that never overstay their welcome, and Sylvie practically ripping out Abel’s sideburns the moment he demands that she not marry Michel. (Poor Sylvie. There’s no one more sheltered and pathetically unknowing than a gangster’s gal.) These isolated moments are barely enough to build and sustain a forward momentum. If The Innocent is guilty of anything, it’s a propensity for silly behavior.

 

Little Women (2019)

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $108.10 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for thematic elements and brief smoking.
Stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper.

The latest version of Little Women, masterfully directed and adapted by Greta Gerwig, manages to find the modern sensibilities of Luisa May Alcott’s signature work while retaining all the trappings of its mid-19th century period setting.

Gerwig takes Alcott’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel that was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, and expertly translates the classic tome into the language of cinema, eschewing the linear narrative of the book and previous adaptations in favor of a flashback structure that better contrasts the childhood and adult lives of its characters.

The core of the story remains centered on the lives of the March sisters — Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) — growing up in Massachusetts around the time of the Civil War.

The film is filled with wonderful performances, anchored by Ronan’s confidence as Jo, and Pugh’s radiance as the bright-eyed Amy (both were nominated for Oscars). The exquisite period set design and (Oscar winning) costumes make for a film loaded with delightful visual touches that would make it worth viewing for those reasons alone.

But shifting the narrative back and forth between the two timelines allows Gerwig to focus on how the characters’ adult lives are practically responses to specific events of their childhoods, in a way that no doubt keeps the material fresh even for those who are fans of the novel or have seen the countless other adaptations of it.

Gerwig’s other spin on the material involves layering more elements from Alcott’s real life even more so than the original novel did. Historically, Jo is most often described as the most direct analog for Alcott in the story, as she’s the one who ends up writing about her sisters. And, as such, she remains the primary character of the film. But, according to Gerwig in the Blu-ray bonus materials, all the characters have some element of Alcott in them. In the very good nine-and-a-half-minute “Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art” featurette included with the Blu-ray, Gerwig relates that examining in her lifelong love of the novel in preparing to make the film, she realized that Jo was the hero of her childhood and Alcott is the hero of her adulthood.

Indeed, one of the best elements of the film is an ending that leaves much open to interpretation while honoring what Alcott once said was her original intent for some of the characters.

Gerwig’s script, while faithful to the original dialogue, plays up the artistic interests of its characters, emphasizing the struggles of the creative process, and how artists often face the choice of sacrificing the integrity of their visions for commercial realities (such as when a publisher declares to Jo that a novel with a female protagonist better see her married off by the end. Or dead.)

In crafting a screenplay that spoke to her as a 21st century female filmmaker, she suggests that this new film version becomes somewhat autobiographical for her as well.

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Other featurettes on the Blu-ray include the 13-minute “A New Generation of Little Women,” offering interviews with the cast and several of the filmmakers about the origins of the project, plus the nine-minute “Making a Modern Classic,” about looking at the story with a modern lens. The disc also includes a three-and-a-half-minute “Little Women Behind the Scenes” promotional video, and three minutes of hair and make-up test footage.

The best extra, in addition to the reflections from Gerwig, is undoubtedly “Louisa’s Legacy: Little Women and Orchard House” (labeled as “Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott” in the menu), a 10-minute mini-documentary about Alcott’s real life and family. Hosted by Jan Turnquist, executive director of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House (the family home where she wrote Little Women), the video discusses what aspects of the book are based on reality, and the impact of the family’s real-life stories on the film.

The video also details the story of Alcott’s house, an old country home from the mid-1600s that has been rescued from destruction at least three times, most recently in 2002 when the walls were shored up and the foundation completely rebuilt to stop the house from sinking into the ground (the pictures of the house being propped up over a giant hole in the ground is rather striking). The real home ended up serving as the basis of the March house in the film.

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Interestingly, while this is the seventh movie adaptation of Little Women, not to mention numerous television and stage productions of it, not as much attention has been heaped on Alcott’s further adventures of the characters. Little Women was the first of what would end up being a March family trilogy, followed by Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

There have been three movie versions of Little Men, two of which were notably made more than 80 years ago, and a handful of television projects. But to date, there hasn’t been a Jo’s Boys movie — only an obscure 1959 BBC miniseries, as well as part of a Japanese anime television adaptation of the trilogy in the 1980s and ’90s.

Animated Drama ‘Funan’ on Blu-ray Dec. 3 from Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory and GKIDS will release the animated drama Funan as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack Dec. 3.

Winner of the top prizes at the Annecy Animation Festival and the Animation is Film Festival, Funan is based on the true story of the family of director Denis Do and their harrowing experience under the Khmer Rouge.

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Set in Cambodia in April 1975, the film tells the story of Chou, a young woman whose everyday world is suddenly upended by the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the chaos of the forced exile from their home, Chou and her husband are separated from their 4-year-old son, who has been sent to an unknown location. As she navigates her new reality, working in the fields day and night under the careful watch of soldiers, and surviving the small indignities and harrowing realities of the increasingly grim work camps, Chou remains steadfast in her determination to reunite her family – even if it means risking everything.

Featuring the voices of Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) and Louis Garrel (The Dreamers), as well as a new English-language version, the Blu-ray also includes an interview with Do, storyboards and concept art as bonus features.