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January 9 - February 3, 2004

Serge Daney: L’Homme cinéma

Heir apparent to the legendary French critic and theorist André Bazin, Serge Daney (1944–1992) carried the torch of French film criticism to a new generation of cinéphiles with his insightful writing for Cahiers du cinema (for which he served as editor-in-chief from 1975 to 1981, ushering in a significant era of post-auterist criticism), for the newspaper Libération, and at the influential journal he founded, Trafic. Despite his canonical status in European film circles, his reputation abroad has been largely constrained—in no small part because his work has yet to be translated into English. Never a victim of fashion, Daney was a champion of both classical Hollywood genre films and promising new directors from France and abroad. This program offers a sampling of some of the critic’s most beloved films as well as a rare documentary in which Daney provides testimony to his passion for film and the culture at large. Each evening’s program will be introduced by a local film historian, scholar, or critic.

This program is co-presented with French Cultural Services, the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University, Vive les Arts, and Cahiers du cinema, who will also publish the proceedings of the symposium in an upcoming issue. Special thanks to Centre National du Cinéma, the Department of Film Studies at Yale University, and Unifrance USA.


January 9 (Friday) 7 pm
February 3 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Children of Paradise (Les enfants du paradis)

Directed by Marcel Carné
France, 1945, b/w, 187 min.
With Pierre Brasseur, Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault

A powerful romantic drama set against the backdrop of the Parisian stage in the mid-nineteenth century, Children of Paradise remains one of the most beloved films of the French cinema. Jacques Prévert’s screenplay fleshes out the demi-monde realm of actors, courtesans, cutthroats, and aristocrats with the naturalistic vitality of a Victor Hugo or Honoré de Balzac. The central action takes place in a small theater on the infamous “Boulevard du crime,” where Baptiste Debureau (Barrault), a sensitive mime, falls hopelessly in love with the actress Garance (Arletty), who is courted by three more successful suitors. From this enchanting love story, Prévert and Carné weave an imaginative web of reality and artifice, using the stage as a metaphor for life.

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January 10 (Saturday) 7 pm
January 23 (Friday) 9 pm

Purple Noon (Plein soleil)

Directed by René Clément
France, 1962, b/w, 119 min.
With Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Laforêt
French with English subtitles

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, René Clément’s stylish 1960 adaptation stars Alain Delon as the pathological chameleon who ingratiates himself into the lives of the rich and idle. Delon’s Ripley is both delightfully hedonistic and sublimely creepy as he plots to murder and assume the identity of an American industrialist’s son. Set against the sun- and color-drenched shades of the Italian Riviera, this noirish thriller, superbly photographed by Henri Decaë, provides a tautly crafted critique of class and desire.

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January 10 (Saturday) 9:15 pm
January 12 (Monday) 9 pm

Pickpocket

Directed by Robert Bresson
France, 1959, b/w, 75 min.
With Martin Lassalle, Marika Green, Pierre Leymarie
French with English subtitles

The first film for which director Robert Bresson composed an entirely original script, this tale of a lonely young man who embarks on a career as a petty thief was to some extent inspired by Crime and Punishment. In Pickpocket, however, Bresson deals more directly with themes of submission and salvation: “With theft I entered by the back door into the kingdom of morality,” the director stated. After being arrested, Bresson’s novice thief reflects on the morality of a life of crime but, although temporarily deterred, returns to his “vocation” after lessons from a master pickpocket. Voted by Cahiers du cinéma as the greatest French film of the postwar era, Bresson’s masterpiece has been praised by generations of fellow directors, including Louis Malle, who described it as “one of the four or five major events in the history of cinema.”

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January 11 (Sunday) 7 pm

Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard)

Directed by Alain Resnais
France, 1955, b/w, 31 min.
French with English subtitles

 

The horror of the Nazi death camps placed a chilling prohibition on imagery in postwar Europe. Resnais’s stirring documentary essay, produced a decade after the end of the war, definitively shattered that taboo with images of incomparable power, culled from the archives and from his own visit to the abandoned sites. The lyrical commentary of Jean Cayrol, a concentration-camp survivor, is at once understated and blisteringly cautionary as it invokes “the cry that never ends.”

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January 11 (Sunday) 7 pm

Blood of the Beasts (Le sang des bêtes)

Directed by Georges Franju
France, 1949, b/w, 22 min.
French with English subtitles

One of France’s most important documentary filmmakers, Georges Franju established an international reputation with this poetic portrait of the slaughterhouse of La Vilette in Paris. The work of the abattoir is depicted with painful directness and in stark contrast to the calm domesticity of the surrounding Parisian suburb. In attempting “to restore to documentary reality its appearance of artifice,” he created a classic postwar document whose forcefulness and poetry remain undiminished today.

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January 11 (Sunday) 8 pm
February 2 (Monday) 9 pm

Hiroshima mon amour

Directed by Alain Resnais
France/Japan, 1959, b/w, 91 min.
With Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Bernard Fresson
French with English subtitles

Resnais’s first feature film is greatly indebted to Marguerite Duras’s screenplay and is considered one of the finest films of the early French New Wave. Using a radically novel approach to expressing temporality through associative cuts that bridge the past and the present, Resnais presents the subjective point of view of a French woman who, haunted by her past during the war and filming an historical recreation of the atomic blast in Hiroshima, falls in love with a Japanese man.

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January 12 (Monday) 7 pm

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

Directed by Robert Bresson
France, 1945, color, 95 min.
With Paul Bernard, Maria Casarès, Elina Labourdette
French with English subtitles

Based on a story from Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste, Bresson’s film is arguably one of the great curiosities of the Vichy era. Updating the 18th -century tale to a contemporary setting, Bresson, using dialogue scripted by Jean Cocteau, resolves the melodramatic narrative in a number of surprising plot twists. A woman scorned takes revenge by befriending a former prostitute and arranging for her to marry her aristocratic ex-lover. Eschewing the minimalism for which Bresson’s later works came to be known, the film employs bravura camera movements and stylized costumes and set design. Yet despite these flourishes, the work is unmistakably Bressonian in its exploration of the darker side of human nature, a theme particularly evident in the reserved performance of Maria Casarès as the quietly vengeful socialite.

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January 13 (Tuesday) 7 pm
February 4 (Wednesday) 9:30 pm

Mon oncle

Directed by Jacques Tati
France/Italy, 1958, color, 110 min.
With Jean-Pierre Zola, Adrienne Servantie, Lucien Frégis
French with English subtitles

When Monsieur Hulot, Tati’s cinematic comic alter ego, goes to visit his sister’s family, his simple lifestyle comes into contact—and conflict—with their ultramodern way of life. In a series of brilliant set pieces, Hulot traipses around their absurdly automated home, fumbles his way through a new job at his brother-in-law’s plastics factory, and forms a very real human bond with his nephew, who is similarly alienated by modern living. A thought-provoking examination of the negative effects of modernity, Mon oncle is a singular achievement by one of the all-time masters of comic film.

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January 13 (Tuesday) 9 pm
February 4 (Wednesday) 7:30 pm

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot)

Directed by Jacques Tati
France, 1953, b/w, 86 min.
With Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Michele Rolla
English language version

Descended from the great silent film comedians (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd), Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot - a recurring character in several of his movies - is a blithely clumsy troublemaker, an insouciant twit who leaves uproar in his wake without being aware of it. Directly eschewing any attempts at narrative, the film provides a series of vignettes at a vacation resort, with the distracted Hulot providing a lot of laughs. As director, Tati composes the film with a perfect eye and ear for the comic possibilities in his mellow environs: composition, lighting, minimal garbled dialogue, and odd sounds such as a duck call and a door repeatedly opening and shutting. This is a superior work that ranks among all-time classic comedies.

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January 14 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zelaza)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Poland, 1981, color, 173 min.
With Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Krystyna Janda, Marian Opania
Polish with English subtitles

This sequel to Wajda’s Man of Marble—in a newly restored print that contains previously censored material—was inspired by real-life political events taking place at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk. Using a range of archival material (including posters, still photos, audio recordings, and eyewitness testimony), Wajda interweaves contemporary newsreel footage—including speeches by a young Lech Walesa and images of the heroism of Anna Welentynowycz, the worker whose dismissal sparked the birth of the Solidarity movement—through a narrative that concerns the efforts of a radio reporter to frame the son of a slain labor leader (the protagonist from Wajda’s earlier film). The resulting film represents a potent blending of fiction and reality, art and life, and earned Wajda the top prize at Cannes.

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January 16 (Friday) 7 pm
January 31 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

Psycho

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
US, 1960, b/w, 109 min.
With Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin

Considered by many to be the quintessential Hitchcock film, Psycho tells the story of Marion Crane (Leigh), a young secretary driven to desperation by a floundering love affair. After stealing $10,000 from her employer, Marion goes on the run, but with the police on her tail and her conscience plaguing her, she shows signs of paranoia and her behavior becomes increasingly erratic. During a violent rainstorm, she pulls into a roadside hotel run by a shy young man named Norman Bates (Perkins), who may be hiding secrets of his own. Hitchcock navigates the film’s surprises and changing allegiances with an assured hand as his camera probes the disturbing physical and mental worlds of his characters.

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January 16 (Friday) 9 pm
January 31 (Saturday) 7 pm

North by Northwest

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
US, 1959, color, 136 min.
With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

In this tautly directed romantic-thriller from Hitchock, advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Grant) is caught in a double case of mistaken identity: a group of spies thinks he is a government agent, while the government thinks he is a spy. While fleeing his pursuers he meets the beautiful, mysterious Eve Kendall (Saint), who may know more about Thornhill than she initially lets on. The film includes some of Hitchcock’s most beloved set pieces, including a chase sequence atop Mount Rushmore and Thornhill’s iconic showdown with a cropduster amid the cornfields at the side of an Indiana highway.

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January 17 (Saturday) 7 pm

The Mother and the Whore

Directed by Jean Eustache
France, 1973, b/w, 219 min.
With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Bernadette Lafont, Françoise Lebrun
French with English subtitles

Regarded by many as the monumental achievement of 1970s French cinema, not only by dint of scale (the film runs nearly four hours) but by virtue of its lacerating, confessional portrait of a generation in search of itself, The Mother and the Whore is a film like no other. Consecrated to the word, it consists almost entirely of lengthy monologues and dialogues: a quasi-autobiographical meditation on love, sex, and the malaise of living. The film stars two veterans of the French nouvelle vague, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Bernadette Lafont, and is deeply marked by that movement even as it stands in critical opposition to its cinematic excesses. In his 1982 obituary for Jean Eustache, critic Serge Daney opined that thanks to The Mother and the Whore, people would know exactly what it was like to be of the generation that came of age in the wake of May 1968.

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January 18 (Sunday) 7 pm
February 1 (Sunday) 7 pm

Fanny and Alexander

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden/France/West Germany, 1983, color, 188 min.
With Bertil Guve, Pernilla Arwin, Erland Josephson
Swedish/German/Yiddish/English with English subtitles

In this autobiographical turn-of-the-century saga, a boy and his sister bear witness to the eventful lives of the Ekdahl family. The film follows the children from the charming environs of their grandparents’ theater company to the rigid confines of the local bishop’s palace. From the opening Christmas celebration to the closing baptismal feast, Bergman eschews his trademark metaphysical and neurotic excavations in favor of a more subtly styled journey through the Sweden of his past.

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January 19 (Monday) 7 pm

Bird

Directed by Clint Eastwood
US, 1988, color, 160 min.
With Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora, Michael Zelniker

Eastwood’s lifelong love affair with jazz found its most powerful expression in this stunning biopic of the legendary bebop musician Charlie Parker. Developed from a screenplay based on the memoirs of Parker’s widow, Chan, Bird focuses on the final chapter in the musician’s life, beginning with his bout with suicide and time-shifting through flashbacks to illuminate both the nature of his artistic genius and his singularly unremorseful lifestyle. Forest Whitaker, whose musical training helped him mime Parker’s performance style, won the award for best actor at Cannes, and Eastwood’s assemblage of a meticulously remastered mix of Parker recordings and recreations by Charles McPherson lends authenticity to the dramatic proceedings.

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January 20 (Tuesday) 7 pm

The Clowns (I Clowns)

Directed by Federico Fellini
Italy/France/West Germany, 1971, color, 92 min.
With Anita Ekberg, Fanfellu, Federico Fellini
Italian with English subtitles

This feature-length pseudo-documentary about the dying art of the clown is itself a three-ring circus of spectacle, slapstick, and sensation. Fellini and a comically clumsy film crew investigate the art of the circus clown by observing and talking to current and former practitioners of the profession. Made for Italian television, The Clowns includes reconstructions of scenes from Fellini’s own childhood in Rimini, where the circus often came to town. “My films owe an enormous amount to the circus. For me the clowns were always a traumatic visual experience, ambassadors of a vocation of showmanship,” Fellini has stated. Here the great Italian ringmaster of the cinema affectionately returns to the root of his inspiration, absorbing it masterfully into his own personal vision.

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January 20 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Ginger and Fred

Directed by Federico Fellini
Italy, 1986, color, 125 min.
With Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni, Friedrich von Thun
Italian with English subtitles

Fellini brought Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastroianni together here for the first time in their careers in the roles of Amelia Bonetti and Pippo Botticela, two retired Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers imitators who are reunited after thirty years for a nostalgic TV variety show. Masina, serene without being coy, and Mastroianni, flabby and balding, are a delight as the past-their-prime partners who are able to relive their former glory for a few magical moments. Ginger and Fred reveals Fellini in a paradoxical mood: soured by television as an inimical purveyor of garbage and Rome as a putrescent dump; mellowed by the affection and fleeting tenderness of his protagonists.

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January 21 (Wednesday) 7 pm

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Directed by John Ford
US, 1962, b/w, 123 min.
With John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin

Even those who disdain westerns appreciate The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as an American classic: an epic film that combines politics, law, journalism, history, and education with a love triangle as tragic and moving as Cyrano de Bergerac. The film’s flashbacks are Ford’s six-gun salute to the volatile America of yesteryear, where John Wayne rides tall, Lee Marvin (as Liberty) is the baddest bad man on the range, and the cactus rose grows untamed in the desert. All this changes, however, when Jimmy Stewart comes West with law books in his hand.

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January 21 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Directed by John Ford
US, 1949, color, 103 min.
With John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar

An aging military captain toils to protect a group of damsels in distress from an impending Indian attack. Ford’s most rousing cavalry saga features military battles, roustabout low comedy from the director’s stock company, and the sentimental retirement of a tough career military man (played by Ford stalwart John Wayne).The Academy-Award–winning cinematography of Winston Hoch is most wonderfully realized in the Tintoretto-like lightning storm in which a wounded soldier is treated.

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January 23 (Friday) 7 pm
January 30 (Friday) 9 pm

Night of the Hunter

Directed by Charles Laughton
US, 1955, b/w, 93 min.
With Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish, Shelley Winters

The sole directorial effort by actor Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter is regarded as one of the most original and strikingly poetic films to have emerged from the Hollywood studio years. Magnificently rendered in atmospheric black-and-white cinematography by Stanley Cortez, this dreamlike, expressionistic fable, set in a small West Virginia community during the Depression, concerns two children who are pursued by a madman-preacher. Based on a novel by Davis Grubb, it was adapted for the screen by James Agee. As the self-styled preacher Harry Powell, Robert Mitchum gives one of his most riveting screen performances.

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January 24 (Saturday) 7 pm

Annie Hall

Directed by Woody Allen
US, 1977, color, 93 min.
With Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts

Annie Hall is Allen at his most creatively inclusive: he here blends comedy and drama, fantasy and realism, live action and animation, and a surprise appearance by Marshall McLuhan into a touching meditation on the beginnings and endings of relationships. Intensely subjective, the film is not so much the chronicle of the breakup of New Yorkers Alvy (Allen) and Annie (Keaton) as a journey into Allen’s mind. At once hilarious and tragic, Annie Hall is the director’s best-loved film and perhaps the most realized representation of his unique take on modern romance.

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January 24 (Saturday) 9 pm
January 30 (Friday) 7 pm
Both screenings introduced by critic Peg Aloi

The King of Comedy

Directed by Martin Scorsese
US, 1983, color, 109 min.
With Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard

This significant departure for celebrated collaborators Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro is a mordant black comedy about Rupert Pupkin, a fanatic autograph seeker and wannabe comedian who concocts a bizarre plan to achieve instant show-business fame. Fueled by unrealistic aspirations, Rupert resorts to increasingly drastic measures in order to appear on his favorite television program. De Niro gives a riveting and unsettling performance as the unhinged loser whose obsessive personality seems well-suited to the inhuman demands of the entertainment industry.

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January 25 (Sunday) 7 pm
Introduced by critic Gerald Peary

Rio Bravo

Directed by Howard Hawks
US, 1959, color, 141 min.
With John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson

After imprisoning a man for committing murder in a local saloon, a small-town sheriff (Wayne) enlists the help of the town drunk (Martin) and a “bum-legged old man” (Walter Brennan) to prevent the killer’s powerful brother from aiding his escape. Wayne’s unflappable sheriff was motivated largely by Hawks’s angry response to the “weak-willed” characters he perceived in Fred Zinneman’s High Noon. One of the rare comic westerns, Hawks’s work joyously ambles its way toward its climactic final shootout.

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January 26 (Monday) 7 pm

Milestones

Directed by Robert Kramer and John Douglas
US, 1975, b/w and color, 195 min.
With Mary Chapelle, Grace Paley, Susie Solf

Milestones is a richly observed, many-faceted portrait of those individuals who sought radical solutions to social problems in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. The film cuts back and forth between six major story lines and more than fifty characters as it scans across a vast American landscape to explore the lifestyles and attitudes of those survivors of the American left who faced both personal and political transitions in the period following the Vietnam War. The filmmakers touch on such subjects as African- and Native-American rights, on the readjustment experiences of a Vietnam veteran and an ex-convict, on parent-child relations, and on sexual alternatives, communal farming, drugs, and regional politics.

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January 27 (Tuesday) 7 pm

January 27 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Directed by Joseph Losey
UK, 1970, color, 118 min.
With Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton

A forbidden affair between an affluent landowner’s daughter and a common farmer is facilitated by a young boy who becomes a secret messenger between the two lovers. In one of several collaborations with screenwriter Harold Pinter, director Joseph Losey explores the dire consequences of the English class system and provides a near perfect evocation of turn-of-the century country life and social repression in a film which was honored with the Palme d’Or at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival.

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January 27 (Tuesday) 9:15 pm

Le plaisir

Directed by Max Ophüls
France, 1952, b/w, 93 min.
With Claude Dauphin, Danielle Darrieux, Jean Gabin
French with English subtitles

In this adaptation of three short stories by Guy de Maupassant, Max Ophüls explores the dangers of pleasure. In the first episode, an older man attends a ball in disguise in order to conceal his own passing years. The second tale focuses on a group of prostitutes who take a break from their daily work at the brothel to attend a religious service in the country. The epilogue presents a fatal romance between an artist and his model. With his distinct visual flair, Ophüls declares that “happiness is no lark.”

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January 28 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Serge Daney: Journey of a Ciné-Son (Serge Daney: Itinéraire d’un ciné-fils)

Directed by Pierre-André Boutang and Dominique Rabourdin
France, 1992, color, 197 min.
French with English subtitles

This made-for-television documentary was completed in just before Daney’s untimely death at age 48. The film explores Daney’s professional journey as a film critic through three episodes: “The Cahiers Days,” “From Cahiers to ‘Libe,’” and “Gaze of the Channel Zapper.” Daney reflects on the life of the cinéphile with celebrated French philosopher and scholar, journalist and writer Régis Debray.

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January 29 (Thursday) 10 am – 4 pm

Beyond Film Criticism: A Symposium in Homage to Serge Daney

Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies
Adolphus Busch Hall
27 Kirkland St. at Cabot Way, Cambridge

For this day-long symposium, a diverse group of international scholars and critics will gather to examine the influence French critic Serge Daney brought to bear on contemporary film culture, the contested position of the cinephiliac, and the divide between academic and journalistic criticism. Panelists will include Professor Dudley Andrew of Yale University, critic and editor Jean-Michel Frodon of Cahiers du cinéma, and cultural critic Susan Sontag.

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