Getty Film Series: Paris: Life & Luxury


Hail the Getty Film Series. This June the Getty offered two free weekend film series, as companion pieces to exhibitions. On June 25 & 26, as a complement to the exhibit “Paris: Life & Luxury”, the Getty will show:

“Jefferson in Paris “(1995)  Saturday, June 25, 2011| 3:00 p.m. Directed by: James Ivory. Written by: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

“Danton”(1982) Saturday, June 25, 2011|6:30 p.m. Directed by: Andrzej Wajda. Written by: Andrzej Wajda, Jean-Claude Carrière, Jacek Gasiorowski, Agnieszka Holland, Stanislawa Przybyszewska.
“Dangerous Liaisons” (1988) Sunday, June 26, 2011|Noon Directed by: Stephen Frears Written by : Christopher Hampton.

“Ridicule” (1996) Sunday, June 26, 2011|3:00 p.m. Directed by: Patrice Laconte. Written by: Rémi Waterhouse
Nominated for a 1996 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, “Ridicule” tells the story of a cash-poor nobleman during the reign of Louis XVI.

Based on Chordelos de Laclos’s 1782 novel of sexual power games, , Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liasons” is a delicious, dark immorality play, a sexual betrayal spun by two bored aristocrats (played by Glenn Close and  “Dangerous Liasons”). James Ivory’s “Jefferson In Paris” shows Jefferson’s common law “marriage” to his slave Sally Hemings (Thandie Newton), his dead wife’s quadroon half sister, while he serves as the representative of the new United States at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

But it is the other two films in the weekend series that I want to highlight. Andrej Wadja’s “Danton” is one of his most passionate films, a muscular historical, shot in the middle of his career.

It’s 1793, a decade after the French Revolution, and Liberal, idealistic Danton returns to Paris to try to stop Robespierre’s Reign Of Terror. The Revolutionary Tribunal and the Committee of Public Safety, created to repel internal and external enemies of the Revolution, was in the process of mass executions including many original friends of the revolution, like the Duc d’Orléans, populist Jacques-René Hébert and eventually Danton and his Indulgents. Originally middle class lawyers, Danton and Robespierre’s mythic battle is a clash over personality and ideals as much as over politics.

Sloppy Danton is a larger than life corrupt hedonist, full of righteous bluster and playing to his adoring fans. Robespierre (“the incorruptible”) wields his terror as inflexible justice and to give the flagging Revolution fresh energy. Strategic, haunted, sickly Robespierre tries to forge a coalition with Danton, beloved by the people, but Danton won’t compromise. Relying on the fickle Convention, he is betrayed and out-maneouvred by the great stratagist.

Gerard Depardieu gives an extraordinary performance as Danton, the prolix, hedonististic lover of life’s pleasure, the nemesis of the ascetic parched totalitarian Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) who sends him to the guillotine. Pszoniak carves out a stubborn ideologue, despairing of seeing the Revolution succeed, who relies on political expediency with little hope of ultimate success. Depardieu’s crafty scene, when he first meets his hero, is a thing of wonder. His tour de force courtroom speech (delivered in one take) leaves one shaken. Danton, who counts on his stentorian voice to move the crowd, loses it and his life.

Wadja’s crowded corridors of power smack of the urgent provisional character of great moments of history. Anyone who’s been close to the seat of power will recognize Wadja’s expressive capture of such places in such times. The epic pitched battle between the two titans can be read as a metaphor for Trotsky and Stalin, or for Lech Waleska and Poland’s coup installed leader, General Jaruzelski (the script was adapted during the peak of the Solidarity movement.)

In a cunning scene, a toga clad Robespierre, posing for the painter David, asks him to paint out a revolutionary he has condemned to die; shades of the Soviet Union’s constant and deadly revisionism.

Wajda, who fled to Paris to shoot the film, remained an exile till the end of the coup in 1989. Wadja’s vivid political thriller details the inevitable force march of idealistic revolutionaries futiley struggling against the bureaucratic assumption of power. Wajda endows his story with the most human emotions and frailties, bringing the period alive. A powerful score (Jean Prodromidès) and beautiful French production values burnish the film.

Patrice Leconte’s “Ridicule” is a delicious “coming of age” tale of a young marquis’ eye opening sojourn at the court of Louis XVI.
The young nobleman Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling) sets off to Paris to gain support for his liberal project to drain the disease ridden  local marshes and save the lives of his peasants. His one contact at court is dead, but cash strapped Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort) takes him under his wing, and attempts to arm him for the strategic battle of wits that Court life entails. Ponceludon falls in love with the Marquis’s scientific-minded daughter. Mathilde (Judith Godrèche-representing the Age Of Enlightenment) spends her time developing a diving bell and hopes to marry a rich old man to finance her experiments. Ponceludon catches the eye of the powerful, attractive Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant), and woos her. “Learn to hide your insincerity, so that I can yield without dishonor,” she advises while cuckolding her official lover, the L’Abbée de Vilecourt (Bernard Giraudeau). She, too, takes his side, until a humiliating fall off her horse, caused by his deaf and dumb ward, drives her to revenge herself on Ponceludon, his protector the Marquis, and his hapless ward Paul (Bruno Zanardi. At court, the bored manipulative Ki LouisXVI (Urbain Cancelier) expects to be amused ( he watches his courtiers through omnipresent peepholes). Courtiers practice their insults like comics outside the Comedy Store, hoping to walk the dangerous fine line between offense and court approved one-liners. The film is redolent with subtext, as the anxious characters’ body language and darting eyes betray.

Rémi Waterhouse’s script (with Michel Fessler &  Eric Vicautscript)  is a  verbal battlefield of malice, insults and irony tinged complements.

Patrice Leconte is a superb filmmaker (a visual stylist with an autopsical eye for pretense) who’s created a string of brilliant, artful films ( “Monsieur Hire”, “The Hairdresser’s Husband”,”The Girl On the Bridge”, “Les grands ducs”, “Man on the Train”.) Cinematographer Thierry Arbogast,     production designer Ivan Maussion, costumer Christian Gasc create a luxe, witty Court, abetted by editor Joëlle Hache and composer Antoine Duhamel. DO NOT MISS.             
Earlier this month, as a complement to the landmark exhibit “A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now,” the Getty programmed four classic Cuban revolutionary films.
Carol Reed’s deliciouly deadpan cold-war comedy ” Our Man in Havana, adapted by Graham Greene from his eponymous “entertainment” is arguably Greene’s best screenplay ( “Third Man”, “The Fallen Idol”, ” Brighton Rock.”) DP Oswald Morris, who also shot the masterful black and white classics “Lolita”, “The Pumpkin Eater” and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” glorifies pre-revolutionary Havana. Art director  John Box, known for his exotic locations in  “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Doctor Zhivago,””Travels with My Aunt’ ( another Greene “entertainment” is equally inventive. And the cast: Alec Guiness with his wonderful cockeyed smile is at the height of his wry powers. Sardonic Ernie Kovacs and Noel Coward each give their best screen performance.  Maureen O’Hara is delightful as the Beatrice Severn,  loyal Burl Ives plays the tragic Dr. Hasselbech, and Paul Rogers is marvelous as the assassin Carter.

Two features by revolutionary Cuban masters: Tomas Guiterrez Alea’s “Memories of Underdevelopment”, an existential portrait of  a wealthy lazy bourgious man, who stays in Cuba after the revolution. Dismissing his country as “underdeveloped”, alienated Sergio remembers his past loves and chase women, unable to find his way.  Critical of his ex wifes petty bourgoisu thinking, he tries to mold his 16-year-old working class mistress Elena (Daisy Granados) into her copy. Self conscious and stagnant Sergio wrestles with history.  Witty, stylized and humanistic,  Alea criticizes the second Sovietized period of Fidel’s revolution while offoring his own revolutionary idealism in a handsome, dilaectic mixed media package.

Humberto Solas, Cuba’s answer to Visconti completed  “Lucia’ in in 1969, when the director was 26. Focusing on three generations of women, Solas tells the revolutionary Cuba. The first section,  set in 1895, when the Cuban nationalists were warring against the Spanish rule. Lush and operatic, it recalls silent film classics.  Aristocratic Lucia (Raquel Revuelta), whose brother fights in the rebel army, is betrayed by her aristocratic “apoliticl “lover , who uses her to flush out the rebel’s stronghold.
 In ‘Lucia, 1933″ privileged  middle class Lucia (Eslinda Nunez,) leaves her parents cushy life style to join  evolutionary Aldo, involved in the overthrow of the dictator Gerardo Machado. Disgusted with the corrupt new regime he helped put in power, Aldo is killed attempting to  revive the original revolution. Solas is adept at portraying the chaos of urban warfare.  “Lucia, 196 ,” Solas’ comic episode takes on sexual politics. Earthy  filed worker Lucia (Adela Legra) is the virtual prisoner of her jealous husband, until her female co-workers weigh in.

“Lucia” was completed in 1969, when the director was 26 and edited by the master Cuban editor  Nelson Rodríguez, who also edited “Memories Of Underdevelopment.”

Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soviet-Cuban co-production. Soy Cuba! is one of the most bravura examples of black and white cinematography in the history of cinema. Its poetic narrative (written by poet Yevgeny Yevteshenko), it’s jazzy soundtrack and heroic, soaring cinematography define a sort of Tropical hallucinogenic expressionism. It was so stylistically radical that both the Soviet and the Cubans denounced it as counterrevolutionary.

Originally conceived as a history of the Cuban Revolution, it became a lyrical celebration of the Cuban people and their relationship to their land. Its reverent pastoral images recall other masterworks of rural mysticism in cinema, like Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, or Eisentein’s Que Viva Mexico.

Following in the footsteps of Eisenstein, Ivans and Riefenstal, I Am Cuba is, in fact, one of the most stylish, artful pieces of “committed” agit-prop filmmaking (a genre revisited by George Cloony in his cool attack on the shackled American media “Good Night and Good Luck”.)

Mikael Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, also responsible for the soviet wartime romantic masterpiece “The Cranes Are Flying” (which took the Palme D’or at the 1958 Cannes Film festival) devised special equipment and novel negative manipulation that still put cinematographers to shame in this era of steadicam and digital in-camera manipulation.

The film begins with an aerial panorama shot sweeping over Cuba’s coastline. Hyperreal white palm tree, a shanty town on stilts by the river’s edge, suddenly a rock & roll penthouse pool party of twisting tourists.

A jaw-dropping panning shot, beginning on the uppermost terrace of the Capri Hotel in Havana, follows bikini-clad models down a runway, falls over the edge to the terrace below, filled with “Ugly American” sunbathing tourists and dives underwater (no cuts!) to frolic with the bathing beauties.

It would never have been seen in the west had Tom Luddy not discovered an unsubtitled  print in Moscow’s Goskino and showed it at Telluride in 1992. That standing ovation screening, and a subsequent outing by Peter Scarlet at the San Francisco film fest brought it to the attention of Scorcese and Coppola.

In 2005 Milestone re-released I Am Cuba, without the overdubs, allowing the viewer’s imagination to soar with the hallucinatory hand-held camera work of D.P Sergei Urusevsky and his team.

Wide angle lenses, and  experimental filters transformed the palm trees into magnificent white feathers. For the extreme pan-shot from the roof pool-party to the dive underwater in the pool, the filmmakers “had to make a watertight box out of sheets of Dupont plastic with three handles so the camera could be passed between Urusevsky and Calzatti [cameramen]at crucial moments. On the first take, the camera box refused to dive beneath the water surface, and Calzatti had to adapt the box with a hollow steel tube running through it so the air could escape the box, but no water would enter the camera.

For the giddy panorama shot of the funeral procession, Calzatti and Uresevsky devised a system of scaffolding and cables, allowing the now vertical , now horizontal trajectory of the gliding camera.

Enrique’s haunting death image was achieved by twisting filters, dripping oil across  a plastic sheet, and finally fading the image into the film stock and freeze the frame in the lab.

As an added bonus, the Getty offered an intimate Point Of View talk with Alexander Calzatti and his daughter Natasha Calzatti. Calzatti, one of two camera operators on Mikhail Kalatozov’s rediscovered masterpiece “I Am Cuba”, and his daughter, photographer and photo-essayist Natasha Calzatti picked a series of photos from the Getty’s landmark survey “A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now.”  Natasha, who visited Cuba many times with her father, described the unique quality of light in Cuba. Pointing out the “fashion shot” quality of social realist Evans’s 1930’s street portraits, she described daily sky of fluffy white clouds that filtered a soft white light, and the effect of humidity which added a glow to the skin. Alex described Alberto Korda’s iconic portrait of Che ( one of the most reproduced photo-images in history) explaining that Korda described the picture as “not very good.” Korda meant that the film, a cropped casual shot, was taken under spontaneous conditions, which added to it’s graphic qualities. Alex compared it o another, highly detailed studio portrait in the gallery. Father and daugher mused on the later conceptual work of Virginia Beahan (who photographs historic locations, decades after their moment in history), Alex Harris, and St. Petersburgh-born Alexey Titarenko, whose melancholy muted blacka nd white portraits of Cuban cities seem to transform their festive, colorido locations into the ghostly city of his childhood.

The Getty Film Series is intermittant, but a delight. The auditorium is a handsome, stadium seating theatre with wonderful sightlines and the free films are shown in 35 millimeter.

FREE. Reservations required. Call (310) 440-7300.
For Ticket information


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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