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May 17-30, 2004  

Beautiful Music: Michel Legrand on Film

A virtuoso jazz and classical pianist, an accomplished conductor, and a multiple Oscar-winning composer with more than two hundred film and television scores to his credit, Michel Legrand has left an indelible mark on the cinema. Raised in France during the German occupation, Legrand was part of a generation that embraced American jazz in the immediate period after the war. His very first album, I Love Paris, recorded when Legrand was only twenty-two, became one of the best-selling instrumental albums ever released. By the late 1950s, he became associated with the young filmmakers of the French New Wave, scoring several films for Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Demy. He went on to work with dozens of major directors, ranging from American expatriates Joseph Losey and Orson Welles to European filmmakers like Andrzej Wajda and Costa-Gavras.

Drawn mainly from the Film Archive’s own collection, this series pays homage to the artistry of this legendary musician, composer, and cineaste.

The program is co-presented with the Goethe Institut, Boston; the German Consulate General, Boston; French Cultural Services, Boston; the Boston Public Library; the French Library and Cultural Center of Boston; and the National Center for Jewish Film.


May 17 (Monday) 9 pm

A Love in Germany (Eine Liebe in Deutschland)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
France/Germany/Poland, 1983, color, 100 min.
With Hanna Schygulla, Marie-Christine Barrault, Piotr Lysak
German with English subtitles

Working from Rolf Hochhuth’s wartime chronicle of the relationship between a Polish prisoner of war (Lysak) and a German shopkeeper (Schygulla), Wajda created a work able to capture not only the collective past but an aspect of contemporary German culture. Told in flashback by the shopkeeper’s son, the story unfolds in a sleepy Bavarian town where the Pole has been assigned to work. Despite explicit prohibitions against fraternizing with the enemy, a passionate affair soon develops. The terrible consequences fuse the predictable reaction of fascist rule with the petty jealousies and unneighborly betrayals that typify small-town life.

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May 18 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Les Misérables

Directed by Claude Lelouch
France, 1995, color, 175 min.
With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michael Boujenah, Alessandra Martines
French with English subtitles

The oft-told tale gets an inventive reworking by veteran French director Claude Lelouch (A Man and A Woman). An ex-boxer agrees to transport a Jewish lawyer and his family from Paris to Switzerland during World War II. Over the course of the trip, the family reads passages from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables to the illiterate boxer, who discovers many curious and inspiring parallels between Hugo’s characters and his own life. Hugo’s epic narrative proves a perfect match for Lelouch’s lush, romantic style. Although ripe with narrative events, it is ultimately the struggles of the common man which have the greatest resonance.

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May 19 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Le Joli mai

Directed by Chris Marker
France, 1963, b/w, 124 min.
With Romy Schneider, Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet
French with English subtitles

This grand-scale, beautifully photographed study of Paris and its people during the month that marked the end of the Algerian War presents interviews with an assortment of citizens and then broadens out to consider the physical setting and political context in which they live. The film has been compared to Jean Rouch’s cinéma vérité classic, Chronicle of a Summer, made the year before. Marker begins and ends Le Joli Mai with meditative, poetic voiceover commentary as only he can write it, but otherwise yields to the sounds of Paris and the voices of a slum dweller, a merchant, an African student, an Algerian worker, a priest turned militant communist, and others.

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May 19 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

America the Strange (L’Amérique insolite)

Directed by François Reichenbach
France, 1958, color, 100 min.
French with English subtitles

The documentaries of François Reichenbach are renowned for their sharp insights into the more eccentric aspects of American life. After a varied career that included writing songs for Edith Piaf, Reichenbach took up filmmaking in the 1950s and became one of the central figures, along with Jean Rouch and Chris Marker, of the emergent and highly influential French cinéma vérité. With Marker as his scenarist, he surveys a range of fairs, parades, and pageantry in America the Strange, revealing the uniquely carnivalesque experience of the country from an outsider’s perspective.

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May 21 (Friday) 7 pm
May 22 (Saturday) 9 pm

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg)

Directed by Jacques Demy
France/West Germany, 1964, color, 87 min.
With Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon
French with English subtitles

Jacques Demy’s masterpiece of music and romance, starring Catherine Deneuve in the role that made her an international star, has been fully restored in breathtaking color. Considered one of the most beautiful films ever made, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg—winner of the 1964 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize and nominated for three Academy Awards—featured an unforgettable score by Academy Award winner Michel Legrand. But despite its legendary status as one of the great French classics, the film was long been unseen in this country. By the mid-1970s all prints were badly faded and the negative damaged beyond repair. The film was rereleased several years ago with new prints made from a recently discovered tri-color negative, under the supervision of Demy's widow, director Agnès Varda.

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May 21 (Friday) 9 pm
May 26 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort)

Directed by Jacques Demy
France, 1967, color, 125 min.
With Catherine Deneuve, George Chakiris, Françoise Dorléac
English and French with English subtitles

The Young Girls of Rochefort was Jacques Demy’s follow-up to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Filmed in Necco Wafer pastels by Umbrellas cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet, the film follows two fraternal twins (real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac) as they pine for love and the excitement of Paris. From its use of American musical stars Gene Kelly (who even at 56 can dance everyone else under the table) and George Chakiris to its final musical number, “Chantez l'Amour! Dansez le Joie!” (with Deneuve and Dorléac decked out in red sequins à la Russell and Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) The Young Girls of Rochefort is a carefree tribute to the classic Hollywood musical.

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May 22 (Saturday) 7 pm

Lola

Directed by Jacques Demy
France/Italy, 1961, b/w, 90 min.
With Anouk Aimée, Marc Michel, Jacques Harden
French with English subtitles

In Nantes, a bored young man named Roland who has been letting life pass him by has a chance meeting with a woman he knew in his teens. Lola, now a cabaret dancer, is also the devoted single mother of a young son, and she harbors hope that his father, who deserted her during pregnancy, will return. Roland falls in love with Lola, giving sudden purpose to his life, but she ultimately departs with her lover. Cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s graceful camerawork lends an almost balletic air to this precisely constructed, lighthearted work, whose main character reappears in Demy’s later The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

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May 23 (Sunday) 7 pm

Atlantic City

Directed by Louis Malle
US/Canada/France, 1980, color, 104 min.
With Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Michel Piccoli

The late Louis Malle had one of the more illustrious and varied careers in modern cinema: from his early work as a cinematographer shooting underwater films for Jacques Cousteau to a stint as assistant to the legendary French director Robert Bresson to his emergence in his own right as one of the founding figures of the French New Wave. Atlantic City was part of yet another extraordinary shift marked by Malle’s move to the U.S. and his commitment to English-language production. Written by the noted playwright John Guare, the film focuses on a very American tale with universal appeal as it follows the lives of two very different generations of people who attempt to live their lives in the shadows of the gambling casinos of Atlantic City.

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May 23 (Sunday) 9 pm

The Thomas Crown Affair

Directed by Norman Jewison
US, 1968, color, 102 min.
With Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke

In Norman Jewison’s 1968 crime caper, Steve McQueen stars as a rich and charming businessman—the last person to be suspected of being a bank-robbing mastermind—while Faye Dunaway portrays the insurance investigator assigned to the case. As the smart and seductive investigator proceeds in her search for the criminal, her sights become set on the millionaire thrill-seeker. Filmed in and around the Boston area, the film captures McQueen near the height of his powers and popularity. Legrand was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Original Score and Best Song (“The Windmills of Your Mind”).

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May 24 (Monday) 9 pm

F for Fake (Vérités et mensonges)

Directed by Orson Welles
France/Iran/West Germany, 1976, color, 85 min.
With Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory
English and French with English subtitles

This playful homage to forgery and illusionism is the last film Orson Welles released before his death. Both a self-portrait and a wry refutation of the auteur principle, its labyrinthine play of paradoxes and ironies creates the cinematic equivalent of an Escher drawing. Described as “a vertigo of lies,” the film itself becomes a kind of fake, for although it bears the signature of its author it was in fact the product of many hands. Starting with some found footage of art forger Elmyr de Hory shot by French documentarist François Reichenbach, Welles transforms the material into an interrogation of the nature of truth and illusion, with stops to revisit his own Citizen Kane and “The War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, detours with Howard Hughes and his hoax biographer Clifford Irving, and a profile of Picasso deceived by love.

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May 25 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Eva

Directed by Joseph Losey
France/Italy, 1962, b/w, 107 min.
With Jeanne Moreau, Stanley Baker, Virna Lisi

Welsh writer Tyvian Jones (Baker) is bored and embittered by his sixties-style success—as author of an international best-seller, owner of an apartment in Rome, and fiancé to a gorgeous Virna Lisi. He meets his existential match in ennui in the mod seductress Eve (Moreau), the epitome of frayed glamour. An emotional tyrant, Eve’s cruelly casual maneuvering forces Jones to confront his past—and his weaknesses—as a man and an artist. Based on a pulp potboiler by James Hadley Chase, this film by Joseph Losey (The Servant) was barely released and remains largely unseen.

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May 25 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Go-Between

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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May 26 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Bay of the Angels (La Baie des anges)

Directed by Jacques Demy
France, 1963, b/w, 79 min.
With Jeanne Moreau, Claude Mann, Paul Guers
French with English subtitles

This luminous, hypnotic tale of love at the roulette wheel was recently rereleased in a painstakingly restored version by Agnès Varda. Jeanne Moreau stars as Jackie, a compulsive gambler who falls in love with a bank clerk (Mann) on holiday in Nice. At first, the two lovers simply use each other as “good luck charms;” but love faces challenges when luck runs out.

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May 28 (Friday) 7 pm
May 30 (Sunday) 7 pm

A Woman is a Woman (Une femme est une femme)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
France/Italy, 1961, color, 84 min.
With Anna Karina, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Paul Belmondo
French with English subtitles

“I want to be in a musical with Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly . . . choreography by Bob Fosse!” declares Anna Karina, and she almost gets her wish in this first color film by then-husband Jean-Luc Godard. Karina’s Angela is an afternoon stripper in the sleazy Zodiac Club who yearns for motherhood “just because.” Although live-in boyfriend Jean-Claude Brialy “isn’t ready yet,” hanger-on Jean-Paul Belmondo (as “Alfred Lubitsch”) is more than happy to help out. Awash in oddball musical moments and Michel Legrand’s thundering score, the film is also filled with self-referential in-jokes, including Belmondo not wanting to miss Breathless on TV and Jeanne Moreau being asked about the progress of Jules and Jim. This jeu d’esprit of the New Wave won a jury prize from the Berlin festival for its “originality, youth, audacity, and impertinence,” while the enchanting Karina (in her first major role) was named Best Actress.

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May 28 (Friday) 9 pm

My Life to Live (Vivre sa vie)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
France, 1962, b/w, 85 min.
With Anna Karina, Sady Rebbot, André Labarthe
French with English subtitles

Using interview techniques, direct sound, long takes, texts, quotations, and statistics, Godard creates a documentary tone for this film about Nana S. (Karina), a girl from the provinces who can’t pay her rent and is initiated into prostitution in Paris. Godard’s film is a probing and dazzling examination of prostitution but, above all, a passionate celluloid love letter to Karina, then the director’s wife. His close-ups of her face bring to mind the incomparable faces of another era: Louise Brooks, Lillian Gish, and Falconetti.

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May 29 (Saturday) 7 pm
May 30 (Sunday) 9 pm

Band of Outsiders (Bande à part)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
France, 1964, b/w and color, 97 min.
With Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey
French with English subtitles

Two restless young men (Frey and Brasseur) enlist the object of their desire (Karina) to help them commit a robbery—in her own home. French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard takes to the streets of Paris to reimagine the gangster genre, spinning an audacious yarn that is at once sentimental and insouciant, romantic and melancholy. Godard presents Legrand in the credits with the ominous introduction, “For the last time on screen.” While the film hardly signaled an end to Legrand’s career, it did mark his final major collaboration with Godard and features one of the coolest dance numbers in the history of cinema, which provided inspiration for later filmmakers such as Hal Hartley and Quentin Tarantino.

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May 29 (Saturday) 9 pm

Cléo de 5 à 7

Directed by Jacques Demy
France, 1963, b/w, 79 min.
With Jeanne Moreau, Claude Mann, Paul Guers
French with English subtitles

This unusual, funny, and emotionally affecting film made Varda famous. We spend ninety minutes—in this film, screen time equals real time—with a beautiful young pop singer (Marchand) as she awaits the results of a doctor’s report that may indicate cancer. She visits a fortuneteller, spends time in her apartment, rehearses songs, deals with a lover and with songwriters who are beginning to exasperate her, and has an adventure with a soldier home from Algeria, whom she meets in the street. As the film proceeds, revealing Paris of a certain time and milieu, we experience with Cléo the beginnings of a transformation that brings new perception to her world. Don’t miss Legrand in an unforgettable cameo as Cleo’s accompanist.

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