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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison tracks down SPERM WHALE 2 (Saman Moghadam) Iran's highest grossing movie

An uncommented effect of the multiplexes stopping running press advts. is that the ethnic titles, which they shoe horn in, are now more difficult to locate. They are often different in each location. SBS did run an interview with a promoter who is placing these in the suburbs. He's got a Samoan film screening at the moment. It would be interesting to know how that's going. The film which I tracked down to Burwood Event (blasting sound and freezing auditorium) would have played to an empty house If we hadn't shown up.

In fact Saman Moghadam's Sperm Whale 2* has had the biggest opening in Iranian film history and is all set to be their biggest earner ever. 

This sequel follows the mature Roya (Mahnaz Afshar) and Arjang (Reza Attaran) from Part One driving to their beach wedding, with her having returned to Iran after her previous marriages during years in the ‘States. She relishes the prospect of playing her old wedding videos but makes the gesture of agreeing to burn them when Arjang objects. Flashbacks cover their younger selves under the restraints of eighties Iran. The couple sit watching a Betamax tape, when owning a video player was a felony and both move on the remote control leaving Roya appalled that they almost touched.

What their generation had craved was American culture. Elvis and Michael Jackson were their idols. This made them subject to police persecution.

The film’s most endearing sequence has the old gang lip synching the “Tell Me, Tell Me” number from Grease, complete with a repeat of the original choreography. At the end of a lively jumping through the fire block festival the escaping friends are stopped by a line of police and freeze into a simulation of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, moon walk and all.

All this left our hero with a charge sheet and, when he was caught wearing skinny jeans and run in for inappropriate clothing, things looked bad. He was only spared by an encounter with an old neighbour police officer he hadn’t recognised who didn’t care about regulations because he was to be sent to the front next day. This and its subsequent development is actually quite touching.

This film is totally at odds with the Iranian productions that make their way into festivals. It’s hard to believe that the Makhmalbaf clan come from the same planet, let alone the same country. Even the bright colour scheme and editing are a contrast.

Beyond that, the film’s sensitivity is something at odds with what we are used to. A joke has Arjang arrive with a knife determined to avenge himself on his more fortunate friend (he has a foreign passport and can go off to the ‘states with Roya). He curses him and his father, only to find the old man has just died and his coffin is being carried out. Or there's the scene where the film tracks back over a humiliating conversation Arjang heard after his rival’s squeeze told him that their partners were going to go off and leave them alone in the oppressive environment while they escaped to America. Turns out that the pair were actually criticising the desert.

However, we are constantly reminded of the production’s origins. They find time to abuse Saddam Hussein, the Soviet Union and Donald Trump. The women wear head scarves throughout and there is such a nice cleric who tells the wedding organiser that he doesn’t need the goon bodyguards laid on. The movie’s success indicates that this is a depiction of themselves welcome to its Iranian  target audience.

It’s all good natured and occasionally agreeable and accomplished, though an unprepared audience is left feeling they could use footnotes. What is the significance of the title and the whale replica model in the lead's bedroom? Along with those off putting shifts of tone it does run a little long but the film has qualities as entertainment to go with its qualities as novelty. Whether there is an audience that will value them here remains speculative.

Sperm Whale 2 also makes an revealing contrast to the simple minded entertainment films from North Korea the festivals chose to offer us a few years back. Showing it lifts a corner of the gumnut curtain that limits our understanding of film.

* Editor’s Note: IMDb refers to this film as Sperm Whale: Roya’s Selection.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Vale Cécile Décugis - David Hare's English translation of Mary Stephen's Tribute

Mary Stephen
I was wrong about the interest in the tribute in French by Mary Stephen about her friend and fellow film editor Cécile Décugis. There have already been hundreds of page views of the post, no doubt assisted by Adrian Martin’s kind words and a link on his Facebook page.

Now serious cinephile David Hare has gone to the trouble of translating Mary’s wonderful memoir into English. Here it is and thanks David.

The young Cecile Decugis
Completely bowled over to hear of Cecile’s passing – last week I never would have thought it even possible.

I had begun to do editing for Eric Rohmer with Cecile who always maintained great gentleness with me, despite Eric’s strong remonstrations: “she’s making the other crew all cry, aren’t you scared of her?”

Last January on a whim I pulled up in my car where she lived, on the way back to my own place in Sevres, and we spent an afternoon together, while freezing outside in temperature, but completely warm in friendship, on the island of Seguin where she had often filmed over the years.

If Marie-Josette Yoyotte is gone, into the black screen of complete oblivion, the death of Cécile Décugis has passed in total silence. 

When Rohmer suggested I become his assistant on La Femme de l’Aviateur, (so I could earn a little dough and stay in France), he later asked me if I would accept the post of assistant, after having already made my first film. When I knew that Cecile had worked on A Bout de Souffle, which is such a mythical work for cinephiles all over the world, I told Eric I would have been happy to sweep the floors for Cecile.

Then followed years of friendship, much of it at a distance. She never made me cry, on the contrary she helped me get over youthful tears whenever there was a matter of heartbreak or slight at perceived injustices to me, as a young Chinese woman fresh from Canada.  A trip in her Renault 2CV to go out for couscous in the 15th Arrondissement... such careful attentiveness (which might surprise those who didn’t know her), a quite unlikely friendship perhaps which I regret to say I didn’t always acknowledge,  so I thought, when I returned to France in May.

That day together in January in winter she wanted to keep me longer, she brought me into the house, she gave me a DVD of her film about the demolition of the Renault plant on the island of Seguin. Earlier she had asked me for my opinion about her new film about her father, a short but emotional piece.  I was very moved by this film that she was struggling to finish with all kinds of galleys, editing, format mixing... at the time it was incredible for me and my children to see this woman at 86 or 87 keeping the faith as a filmmaker, and being able to carry on with her work almost to the end. I would have liked to be able to say a last farewell...
Never postpone a telephone call you could make today until tomorrow....

Cecile Decugis and film-maker Jackie Reynal

Monday, 24 July 2017

Vale Cécile Décugis - Mary Stephen's tribute to the film editor for the French New Wave

The film editor Cécile Décugis died on 11 June. Her death seems to have passed largely unnoticed in these parts at least.

Mary Stephen & Cécile Décugis (see link below)
Décugis started work in the late 50s her first credit being on Francois Truffaut’s Les Mistons (France, 1957) and after that she was an integral element of many of the films that remain the key markers of the French New Wave. Her next films were a short for Jean-Luc Godard and then, in the same year the legendary features A Bout de Souffle/Breathless (Godard, 1960) and Tirez sur la Pianiste/Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut, 1960). The list from then on until her retirement in 1996 is awesome indeed. You can find it here on Wikipedia. Her film-makers included Luc Moullet, Eric Rohmer (nine films), Jean-André Fieschi and Werner Schroeter.

My friend Mary Stephen, who was Rohmer’s editor for the last two decades of his career has written a tribute and published a memorial album of photos on Facebook. It’s in French so I guess the readership here will be limited but nevertheless I am happy to publish it to mark the passing of Cecile Décugis.

Mary writes: Complètement bouleversée d'apprendre la disparition de Cécile ... le mois dernier, que je ne savais pas ...

J'avais débuté en montage d'Eric Rohmer avec Cécile qui a toujours été d'une grande gentillesse avec moi, malgré les avertissements d'Eric à l'époque, "elle fait pleurer tous ses assistants, tu n'as pas peur?"

En janvier dernier, sur un coup de tête, j'avais arrêté ma voiture près de chez elle, en rentrant chez moi depuis Sèvres; on a ensuite passé un après-midi très froid en témperature extérieur mais chaleureux en échanges, sur l'île Séguin, qu'elle avait filmé pendant des années. 

Si Marie-Josette Yoyotte est partie, selon l'Ecran Noir, "dans l'indifférence générale" ... le départ de Cécile Decugis est passé dans le silence total.   Lorsque Rohmer m'avait proposé d'être son assistante sur La Femme de l'Aviateur (surtout afin que je puisse gagner un peu de sous et rester en France), il m'a demandé si j'accepterais un poste d'assistant après avoir réalisé déjà un premier film.  Lorsque j'ai su que Cécile a monté A bout de souffle, qui est pour nous - étudiants de cinéma du monde entier - une oeuvre mythique, j'ai répondu à Eric que je serais trop contente de balayer la salle de montage pour Cécile.

S'ensuivent des années d'amitié, surtout à distance.  Elle ne m'a jamais fait pleurer, au contraire, elle essuyait mes larmes de jeunesse lorsqu'il y a eu une peine de coeur ou qq injustices à mon égard, jeune Chinoise fraîchement débarquée du Canada.  Des trajets en voiture dans son 2CV, pour aller manger un couscous en bas de chez elle dans le 15ème...  une attention délicate toujours (qui surprend ceux qui ne la connait pas), une amitié assez invraisemblable, je suis remplie de regrets de ne pas avoir fait signe, comme j'avais pensé, dès que je suis rentrée en France en mai.  Ce jour-là en janvier, elle avait voulu me retenir plus longtemps, elle m'a fait entrer chez elle, elle m'a passé un DVD de son film sur la démolition de l'usine Regnault sur l'île Séguin.  Auparavant, elle m'avait demandé un avis concernant son nouveau film sur son père, un film court mais long en émotion.  J'étais très touchée par le film qu'elle peinait à finir avec des galères de tous genres, en montage, en format, en mixage ... à l'époque, mes enfants et moi, on s'est dit que c'est incroyable de voir ce bout de femme, à 86/87 ans, garder la foi de création personnelle et porter une oeuvre jusqu'au bout, toute seule ou presque. 

J'aurais tellement voulu lui dire un petit adieu.

Ne jamais rapportez à demain le coup de téléphone que vous pensez donner à quelqu'un ... faîtes-le aujourd'hui, sur le champ.

Credit for Cécile Décugis on Ma Nuit Chez Maud