Saturday, October 20, 2012

35th Starz Denver Film Festival: In Another Country

In Another Country (Da-reun na-ra-e-suh, 2012), leading Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo's thirteenth feature in seventeen years and his third to screen in competition at the Cannes Film Festival (in eight appearances), maintains the writer-director's career-defining and spanning predilection for multi-part narratives with a three movement work that centers on the great Isabelle Huppert as three separate French visitors named Anne. As Huppert passes from film director to adulteress (in a heavily subjective, dream-centered segment) to wronged wife in Hong's three discrete parts - the filmmaker frames each with self-reflexive voice-over from the young female screenwriter (Jung Yoo-mi) who invents Huppert's diverging incarnations, out of an impulse to escape from her real-world familial concerns - Hong preserves the same coastal Mohang setting and supporting cast with whom all three Anne's will come to interact. That is, in her separate identities, Huppert's characters will encounter and spend time with a maritally unfaithful filmmaker colleague/stranger (Kwon Hae-hyo) and his very pregnant and justifiably jealous wife (Moon So-ri); a local female twenty-something who time and again hospitably supplies Huppert with an umbrella; and a muscular lifeguard (Yoo Jun-sang) whom she asks, to no avail, for the location of a lighthouse (in all three parts). Hong, in other words, creates a continuous narrative setting, a unified diegetic world - with one object pointedly carrying over from parts two to three - which Huppert's respective Anne's will each inhabit and explore.

Through In Another Country's tripartite organization, Hong effectively produces a metaphor for his broader body of work, which in the tradition of Piet Mondrian and the director's spiritual master, French director Eric Rohmer, adheres to a discrete or closed system. In Hong's particular case, the key elements - to Mondrian's primary colors, negative white or off-white spaces and thick black lines - tend to include a mid-to-late thirty-something filmmaker, typically on holiday in a seaside location, where he spends most of his waking time drinking, conversing and screwing; male and female friends, including at least one younger, romantically dissatisfied female lead, who often maintains a professional or institutional connection to the director; and, aesthetically speaking, single-shot sequences comprised of conspicuous moments of stasis, panning set-ups that alternate between two speakers and the occasional re-framing zoom. While the Huppert-centered In Another Country therefore represents some form of break from the more conventional Hong system (though it does still adhere strongly to Hong's visual schemata) the director's latest again serves to allegorize the theme-and-variation structure that heretofore has spread out across the outstanding Korean director's corpus. This is to say that In Another Country translates Hong's broader, closed method of practice into a discrete single-film form, with each part analogous to a full feature.

In Another Country of course also represents yet another in a line departures from the two-part structures that served as the director's most recognizable signature from his masterpiece The Power of Kangwon Province (1998) on through to his superlative Woman on the Beach (2006). In these films, as programmer and critic James Quandt has very adroitly pointed out, one can see the split (North and South) identity of the Korean nation as it is portrayed in a set of narratives that though they parallel and even mirror one another, nonetheless remain divided. In Another Country, on the other hand, belongs to a more recent phase in the director's body of work, one that began especially with the Parisian-set Night and Day (2008), which though it still keys on repetition, seeks instead new forms of organization - like Night and Day's Rohmerian diaristic structure or once again In Another Country's three-part division. Though the filmmaker continues in these films to portray the same feckless Korean male and his outspoken feminine counterpart (see the filmmaker and his wife of In Another Country), which is to say though he extends his depiction of Korea's dysfunctional masculinity and at times unruly femininity, he does so through forms that speak less to the broader implications of national identity, than to the aesthetic sources of his art - which true to the inter-texts of Night and Day and In Another Country, are French in nature. (In fact, one might even say of In Another Country that while the film continues to identify the shortcomings of the Korean male in particular, its primary parallel focus has become the French, rather than the Korean woman, with Huppert providing a multi-faceted, emblematic depiction of Gallic womanhood.)

Huppert of course is the catalyzing factor, as was Paris in Night and Day, in identifying Hong's latest as French in its artistic orientation. (Hong as always is the most French of Korean directors.) However, it is Eric Rohmer, again, who provides not only the conversational holiday idiom to which the director's latest adheres, but also a conceptual source for the Korean film's multi-part organization in his Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle (1987) and the tripartite Rendezvous in Paris (1995); as well as the personal Hong favorite, Rohmer's supreme masterpiece The Green Ray (1986), which In Another Country will subtly reference. With regard to the latter, Hong succeeds in evoking the Rohmer picture in Huppert's inquiries about a small lighthouse (cf. Rohmer's eponymous ray and Saint-Jean-de-Luz seaside location), her lonely perambulations and solitary gazes toward the expansive water, and even the religious content that appears in a Buddhist shrine and Huppert's consequent discussion with a monk. Ultimately, though, In Another Country reaches its own romantic epiphany, which expressly lacks both the transformation of The Green Ray's concluding set-piece and also its the parallel religious implication. This is to say that though Hong references Rohmer, he very much makes his inspiration his own.

Most of all, still speaking of the film in its Green Ray context, there is the lack of verbal expressivity that is common to both works. In Hong's film, the inability to express oneself comes not from his characters' personalities or states of mind, but rather from their imperfect ability to communicate in a shared English language, which in the case of the Korean film provides a number of immediately pleasurable comedic exchanges. Among the most memorable, certainly, are those that feature Yoo's semi-fluent lifeguard, who in all three parts invites Huppert to visit his tent, before awkwardly offering his tiny residence as a gift. In parts one and three, Huppert's Anne accepts the former invitation with the first Anne being greeted by an impromptu musical performance, presented in an extreme-long, occluded framing, and the third by more intimate exchange - and an appropriately more restricted shot choice. Yoo's character, it remains to be said, provides much of the easy pleasure of a film that for the English viewer is nothing if not accessible. Indeed, with its effectively drawn supporting comedic players, its dialogue-centered comedy that relies disproportionately on its spectators' comprehension of the English language and most of all, Huppert's presence, Hong at long last may have made a film that will provide him with some minute measure of American commercial success. At the very least, he has made another in a long, if perhaps only modestly variably line of first-rate art house entertainments.

In Another Country, which will be released theatrically in the US by Kino Lorber, screens at the Starz Denver Film Festival Friday, November 2 at 6:45 PM; Saturday, November 3 at 10:00 PM and Monday, November 5 at 1:45 PM.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ten Years Older: Víctor Erice's Lifeline (2002)

Produced as part of the two-film Ten Minutes Older project, a set of omnibus features that premiered at the 2002 Cannes film festival, Víctor Erice's ten-minute Lifeline (Alumbramiento) represents one of the cinema's most concentrated and philosophically expansive ruminations on the nature and meaning of time - which is to say the core substance of the art form. Prefaced along with the rest of Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet by Marcus Aurelius's Meditations words - "Time is a river, the irresistible flow all created things. One thing no sooner comes into view than it is hurried past and another takes its place. Only to be swept away in turn." - Erice's short, black-and-white masterwork opens with the piercing, acousmatic cry of a newborn, followed in rhythmic succession by on-camera set-ups of the sleeping infant, his unconscious mother and a small Madonna statue. Returning to the child, a heart-shaped stain begins to spread through his white cotton garments, introducing a rudimentary form of temporally-based suspense as Erice dissolves to a second short passage.

Here, Erice showcases a pre-adolescent boy as he sketches a wrist watch on his upper arm, thereby signalling the film's thematic focus: time. So too can this subject be deciphered on the soundtrack early on, with the clicking of a pendulum adding to the crowing rooster that accompanied the first appearance of the infant. As the short film progresses, we are given further audio-visual access to this theme, with a dripping faucet marking not only the work's evanescent subject matter, but also the infant's apparently perilous condition. (Lifeline in this sense seeks to focalize time in much the same fashion that the brilliant The Quince Tree Sun [1992] does light.)

The child of this second sequence will further prove essential to the film's temporal rhetoric in that he provides an another instantiation of the film's catalog of generations and ages, following the mother and infant, and with two older men (who sit in a photo-filled drawing room) presented in the short wordless scene to follow. The boy's gesture, more complexly, also introduces a frozen form of temporality that finds more obvious expression in the aforesaid photos, and in a newspaper headline dating to the twenty-eighth day of June 1940, or two days before Erice's birth. The newspaper, La Nueva Espana, an Austurian publication - Erice was born in the neighboring Basque Country - depicts Nazi soldiers on the French-Basque border, which is to say the condition into which both the film's infant and Erice were born. In this respect, Lifeline is a film about personal history and historical time - with additional references made to Christian tradition (or the West's religious history), from the snake slithering among the fallen apples to the Virgin statue - as much as it is about the suspenseful moment-to-moment temporal sequence that the child's unacknowledged injury produces.

With regard to the photos that hang on the parlor wall, Erice highlights a portrait of workers at El Paraiso, a place of business in Havana, with his camera slowly moving between the temporally fixed workers. The location of the portrait becomes additionally significant when Erice consequently shows four village children playing in a parked automobile that also sports Cuban plates. Within the 1940 context of the short's setting, this pairing of geographical references serves to position the film's subjects as pro-Republican, inasmuch as the island nation contributed scores of soldiers to combat Franco and his allies. The memory of the Civil War, which we must be reminded also haunts the director's debut masterpiece of personal history, The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), indeed returns within Lifeline, with the short's one-legged soldier providing an even more conspicuous reference. This is to say that Lifeline is a work of the past and remembrance, lost time, as much as it is about its subjects' present, or lived temporal experience.

To return to the latter, Erice's film proceeds with images of the village population, who again spread across the age and gender spectrum, as they perform their daily mundane rituals in a series of acts which though temporal in nature, feel almost timeless in their actualization: a woman sews clothes for the infant Luisin, and another kneads bread; one man sharpens a blade, while a second thrashes in is field; the crippled young adult wraps a string around his toe, while a young, barefoot girl sits alone rocking on a swing. In other words, Erice's villagers pass time participating in mundane rituals - even as, as we are often made to remember, the infant child continues to bleed off screen.

The sudden shriek and mother's cry, "he's dying," stops this assorted collection of villagers in the midst of their routines, compelling each to rush to their neighbor's assistance in what will prove a measure of the community's shared sense of purpose. (Considering again the film's historical references, Erice's work demonstrates an essentially Socialistic politics.) With each member of the community accordingly looking on, we see as one of the oldest villagers removes the infant's umbilical cord, calmly reassuring child and parent alike that everything will be fine. Erice thusly transforms what appears to be a sign of ill-health into a natural stage in the child's growth. Or, to put it another way, we see life emerging where first we feared death - a metaphor that we are invited to extend to the film's post-Civil War rise of Franco and his Nazi allies, and surely to Erice's own life story. The personal history that is depicted therefore in profoundly poetic form is at once imbricated with Spain's political past, even as it maintains the deeper existential resonances identified in the feature's opening epigram, and which we will see in the short's closing passage.

With the healthy child returned to his parents' loving care and his mother singing "you wanted to leave us before your time" in voice-over, the clock hits 3:50 as the daily rituals of the small community recommence - and as the pre-adolescent boy wipes the frozen timepiece off his wrist. Erice's Lifeline villagers, in other words, reenter the inexorable flow of time that though arrested in portraits, historical memories and the child's watch, and though pausing for the community's concern for its youngest residence, continues unabated as the filmmaker's ten-minute masterpiece of multiplying and reinforcing temporal forms fades to black.

For those who wish to view this short with English subtitles, albeit in slightly lower resolution and with adds, you may do so at this link.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Pure Spectacle, Pure Theory: Returning to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982)

In a year that has witnessed real movement toward deceased action-hack auteur Tony Scott, an unapologetic Tativille favorite since he directed one of the finest blockbuster-mode features of the early twenty-first century in Déjà Vu (2006), my own grandest moment of reappraisal and personal (though not complete) reversal came ironically with the most critically lauded of the Scott brothers' work, older-sibling Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982). Of course, there are very few films of comparable aesthetic interest that owe less to their director's artistry than does Blade Runner - a fact that has dictated the elder Mr. Scott's series of post-release efforts to re-cut and re-package a film that perhaps was not nearly enough the director's own; that is, to belatedly claim authorship over his sleazier, proto-Avatar (2009) major-work. Then again, Mr. Scott is himself, like this writer, more than justified in returning to a work of science-fiction whose mode of address represents the ultimate in cult appreciation: that of the reusable commodity.

The essence of Blade Runner's re-usability resides in its construction of an intricate and immersive diegetic space that invites its spectator to return time and again, to explore, re-explore and escape into the dystopian world created by the filmmakers - an activity that is encouraged additionally by Scott's multiple re-cuts. Lawrence G. Paull's production design emerges as a cinematic dominant, with the narrative pausing to luxuriate in Rachael's (Sean Young) Egyptian flat, J. F. Sebastian's (William Sanderson) Victorian-styled mansion and the trashed-filled back alleys of Blade Runner's teeming Los Angeles. Perpetually damp, eternally nocturnal and painted in neon, Scott's soiled, Tokyoesque L.A. is indeed absolutely ripe with an all-consuming urban decay that serves to situate the film in its immediate, early 1980s moment. In short, Scott's cinema of production design and art direction provides a pure form of visual spectacle that ideally complements the to-be-looked-at-ness of Blade Runner's special effects, director of photography Jordan Cronenweth's graphic lens flaring and naturally, Miss Young's intentionally inhuman beauty. We are asked to survey, scrutinize and in the case of the film's female lead, stare.

Blade Runner's steampunk aesthetic - brought to the screen at the cultural crest of the Anglo-American "new wave" that Pris's (Daryl Hannah) white and black face paint most directly inscribes - contributes to the film's larger mapping and re-mediation of the historical nineteenth century. Scott and Cronenweth's effectively pre-electric spaces (see Joe Turkel's candlelit home) catalog the earlier historical era, whether it is the aforementioned Egyptian and Victorian interiors or the stone, steel and glass Richardsonian architecture to which the narrative shifts late in its running time. Then there are the even more discursively significant automata that link Blade Runner to the late nineteenth century time of cinema's naissance - in addition to functioning as a narratively motivated double for the film's Replicant subjects. Scott's postmodernism, like the Victorian culture that Blade Runner focalizes, samples from both disparate historical sources and remote geographical locations - no less than George Lucas's even more cultist Star Wars trilogy, with respect to which Blade Runner stands in obvious dialogue.

Scott's film indeed emerges as a theorist's alternative to Lucas's cinematic mythologizing, with the film's cyberpunk, neo-noir aesthetic and the aforementioned proto-cinematic forms providing sexy counters to Akira Kurosawa, Buck Rogers and Saturday matinee television pulp. However, it is in another sense an accidental object of theoretical interest with the filmmaker's deficiencies as a storyteller - which perhaps become clearest in Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer's limply choreographed fight sequence - implicated in the film's cult appeal. Indeed, it is not simply that Blade Runner's richly detailed environments invite further examination, but that the narrative's occasional lack of immediate clarity likewise encourages repeat viewings. In this sense it is Blade Runner's traditional imperfections (at least in part) that make it a cult-style reusable commodity. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

What White Collar Is

Let us begin with what the USA Network's White Collar (2009-2012) is not: prestige, long-form television  of the HBO-Showtime-AMC variety. It lacks the novelistic structure and density to make it hipster/Slate/coastal water-cooler fodder. In a writer's medium (to cinema's director's art), White Collar is not particularly well written, especially on the level of dialogue - David Milch, Jeff Eastin and company are not. Nor is it particularly well acted in its forty or so minutes each week, especially within a cable world that gives us the extraordinary work of Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito, et al., on television's current best, and most consistently well-acted program, Breaking Bad (2008-2012). In short, White Collar does not correspond to the way that we, which is to say those of us with some stake in elite culture, consume quality television. White Collar just doesn't figure in the public discourse - and understandably so.

What White Collar is, however, is the most consistently visually compelling hour on American television; it is a series, almost without parallel for contemporary works of the medium, that thinks first, and quite a bit, of how to gracefully compose the visual field. If show-runner Jeff Eastin has not created a series that conforms to our idea of what makes television good, he nonetheless has created a visual style of exceptional density and moment-to-moment optic interest that competes with if not outright distracts us from the banalities of what we are hearing. White Collar in this regard tells us one thing about how we in-the-know types watch narrative television: we don't actually attend to the plasticity of the image. When we do consume television visually, it is typically for its sexy mid-century design aesthetic or the undeniable pleasures of seeing Christina Hendricks in a plunging neckline, not that we should take either for granted.

White Collar is different, as the above, more characteristic than you might think image, clearly attests. From about the middle of the first season, Eastin's series began increasingly to attend to the graphic possibilities intrinsic in its Midtown Manhattan settings, with particular attention lavished on its narratively focal high-rise boardroom settings. In this sense, White Collar adheres to USA's loose location-centric house style, which might otherwise be defined by its Sony CineAlta F35 HD camera work - White Collar uses the same technology - and its clean, even lighting strategies. However, there is not an once of White Collar's visual interest in all of Royal Pains' (2009-2012) Long Beach-shot images combined, with the latter opting for shallow medium set-ups tagged with the bright local yellow light. This is just to say that though White Collar shares some of the technical specs and even the fidelity to location of its fellow USA programs - one of White Collar's pleasures for this former New Yorker is its very recognizable mapping of Midtown East, from Gramercy to Kips Bay - White Collar has an aesthetic ambition all its own.

What makes White Collar's visual strategies so singular is again the use the show makes of its New York interior sets/locations. Among the most paradigmatic of the camera crews' strategies - one that since it developed, once again, midway through the first season, has reoccurred in every episode - are its wispy, lateral, mobile travelling set-ups, which cue into the impossibly reflective surfaces that predominate within the show's FBI headquarters in particular. For these typically short though frequently repeated compositions, White Collar's camera crew (helmed by a number of different directors over the course of four seasons) shoot through the space's glass walls as they compress numerous planes into a single, visually quite complex graphic field - one that asks to be looked at first, as we hear the perfunctory conversation on the other side of the semi-visible barrier. Thanks to the stylistic program that Eastin has instituted for his directors and cinematographers, we have the makings in White Collar of a whole new generation of "wagon wheel" Joseph H. Lewis's who have not yet met an intermediate object through which they did not look to shoot (see the lelouch below).

What these 'White Collar shots' encourage, whether inside the show's FBI sets or increasingly in whatever interior or even exterior locations the makers can find to enact their baroque visual program, is a pleasure in looking - a pleasure that I think we can all concede is all-too-often unknown in narrative television. This is the modest, though in another sense significant accomplishment of what would initially seem another USA Network throw-away - another show that cries out for a "What is Burn Notice?"-style parody. Of course, there are other pleasures to White Collar, beginning with Matt Bomer's (pictured right) forceful charisma and abounding sex-appeal, and the easy rapport he has created with co-stars Tim DeKay (left) and Willie Garson. In the terms of contemporary world cinema White Collar is a middle-of-the-road or better Milky Way product to the better respected (and often rightfully so), though also stodgier festival feature; though it might not have what we expect from the best of the art, we would be unwise to sleep on its many commendable qualities. Eastin's show is indeed easy to overlook - at least for those who have not spent time looking at it.

This piece was co-conceived by Lisa K. Broad, with whom I have watched most of the first three seasons, all of which are available on Netflix's instant streaming service.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Film: Trouble with the Curve (2012) & The Master (2012)

Robert Lorenz's Trouble with the Curve (2012), from a Randy Brown screenplay, represents Clint Eastwood's first on-camera work since Gran Torino (2008), the multi-hyphenate's final extraordinary entry into the "Dirty Harry" cycle, and the auteur's first role in a film by another director since In the Line of Fire (Wolfgang Petersen, 1993). What emerges, despite Eastwood's lack of credited presence behind the camera, is some of the most personal Hollywood filmmaking of the year, with the actor's long-standing, psychoanalytic preoccupations with estranged father-daughter relationships (True Crime, Million Dollar Baby) and child victimization (A Perfect World, Mystic River) confirming the filmmaker's secret authorship over his former assistant-director's debut. Much more meaningfully, Trouble with the Curve also extends the self-reflexive project of the actor-director's work, with the star's latest explicitly ceding control to a younger generation. Eastwood's sight-impaired Gus Lobel begrudgingly gives his daughter (Amy Adams as Mickey) his keys - only to wreck his vehicle later, in a moment of characteristic self-deprecation - before literally receding into the background of the frame, as Mickey rushes to be with Justin Timberlake's Johnny in the focal foreground. Trouble with the Curve indeed marks a handing over of sorts, to Adams and Timberlake - the latter representing the 'Ice Cube' generation of actors with whom Gus and his fellow scouts needle one of their colleagues - no less than to Lorenz.

Eastwood's withdrawal, however, is by no means unambiguously positive. On the one hand, Adams and Timberlake's chemistry does provide much of Trouble with the Curve's pleasure, whether Johnny is chatting up Mickey beside the chain-link or the beaming couple joins the clogging in a backwoods North Carolina watering hole. On the other hand, Trouble with the Curve is diminished, though not so much for this writer to cancel his recommendation, by Lorenz's direction, which oscillates between the perfunctory and the overly literal (in his point-of-view framings of Gus's deteriorating sight), as well as by Brown's screenplay, with its frequently too-on-point dialogue. Then there is the film's denouement that violently strains credulity, even if its counter to the statistics-driven analysis of Bennett Miller's Moneyball (2011), a film that it should be admitted is superior both on the level of its writing and also in its direction, is both plausible on the microscopic level and also ably integrated into Trouble with the Curve's cliché-riddled narrative.

At this point, it would seem germane to turn to Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (2012), which shares not only Adams with the Eastwood film - albeit to lesser effect - but also Philip Seymour Hoffman with another superior Bennett Miller film, the latter's biopic Capote (2005). Here, however, the comparison essentially ends, with Trouble with the Curve's opening scene urination announcing Eastwood's return to a low-brow aesthetic, while The Master declares its significance in not only its title, but in its selection of a 70mm format and even, perversely enough, Joaquin Phoenix's more intellectually respectable masturbatory gestures that take the place of Eastwood's prostate. The last of these sets the tone for the taming of Phoenix's primitive, which all too often Anderson squeezes into standard-issue shot/reverse-shot decoupage - thereby belying the selection of the more expensive and expansive format. Of course, The Master does have its visual moments, whether Phoenix's Freddie Quell is racing over a California field or exploding in an ably chosen static two-shot with his impassive seducer Hoffman in the next cell; it is simply that these passages are more the exception than the rule.

In the end, however, The Master's problem seems perhaps less its ability to sustain visual interest - after all, Trouble with the Curve rarely achieves any, save for its atmospheric Carolina pinewood exteriors and freshly groomed ball-fields - than that there seems to be little beneath its surfaces, behind Phoenix's and Hoffman's scenery-chewing push-and-pull (to Adams and Timberlake's gentle courtship). The Trouble with the Curve is of course predominately what exists beyond the frame, a work that invites if not actually calls its viewer to consider its place in Eastwood's career as both an extension and a new direction. The Master by comparison seems to exist in no world other than those of its characters, who enact a psycho-sexual drama that fails to offer viewers anything meaningful about post-war America or a Scientology faith that Anderson seems far less comfortable criticizing than the Christian fundamentalism of There Will Be Blood (2007). Despite the ambitions of its title, 'the Master' appears to have lost his nerve in what may well be his weakest film of his career.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hulu Plus on Tativille: Jean Grémillon's Remorques

Begun in 1939 but not completed until well after Germany's 1940 occupation of northern and western France, Jean Grémillon's masterful Remorques (Stormy Waters, 1941, 82 mins.) may well stand as the last 'Brillante' gasp of the pre-World War II French cinema, with its consistently inventive mobile framings, fragrant mise-en-scène and lush musical accompaniment all certifying a by then lost golden age. Grémillon and cinematographer Armand Thirard immediately establish a potent, personal form of expressionism, with an inebriated forward tracking shot stumbling along with a boozy minor player. He brings the camera to a glimmering, though on occasion ruggedly cut wedding banquet, where Grémillon organizes the elegantly keyed interior in a receding series of luminous planes that rapidly fall out of focus. As the dancing proceeds, Grémillon's camera waltzes with lead, married guests-of-honor Jean Gabin and Madeleine Renaud as they converse beneath a heavy orchestral canopy. A sudden, brisk, punctuating track backward will momentarily close the scene - though it will soon re-commence with the consequent arrival of one of Gabin's tugboat employees on the back of his speeding motorbike, having arrived out of the onyx night.

In the poetically under-lit nautical scene that follows, Grémillon's mise-en-scène becomes increasing haptic, with the cold Atlantic rains piercing through Gabin's outerwear. The filmmaker liberally alternates between pleasurably quaint models and second-unit documentary set-ups that feature the sailors at work as they labor to rescue a storm-tossed vessel. Inside the cabin of the tugboat, Grémillon's tripod set-ups swing violently with the ship, thus extending the film's expressionistic program. Gabin and his crew save a soaking, slick-haired Michèle Morgan as she risks her life in an attempt to flee from her soon-to-be estranged, villainous husband's ship. Back on shore, the previously happily married Gabin and Morgan abruptly begin an affair, one that opens with a now lighter-haired Morgan expressly taking the place of Gabin's absent, ill wife. As they arrive at an unoccupied beachfront cottage, Morgan observes that the place reminds her of a ghost film she once saw - an apt citation given the low-key visual and model work (reminiscent of James Whale) and the angular architecture drawn from German Expressionism that in this space in particular, strongly obtains. A second meeting in another flat coincides with a powerful lightning storm that both extends the metaphor that brought Morgan into Gabin's life and also externalizes the couple's electric passion. For its visual pursuit of its thematic motifs alone, the Jacques Prévert-scripted feature matches if not exceeds any of the screenwriter's prewar work with Gabin, Morgan and the far-better known Marcel Carné.

Remorques concludes with one of its most inventive, if also somewhat primitive passages: the spectator hears a voiced-off funerary oration that doubles as a moral chastisement of the unfaithful Gabin. In this moment, Grémillon re-frames his cardinal storm metaphor within an ancient tradition of divine judgement that stretches back to the Book of Genesis. On the very waters that by 1941 would be controlled by the Nazis, Gabin is fated to travel life alone aboard his ghost ship.

A special thanks is due Lisa K. Broad for her observations included in this piece. Remorques is available on both Hulu Plus and in the Criterion Collection's Eclipse-label Jean Grémillon During the Occupation box set.