Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Curse of the Pink Panther (Blake Edwards, 1983)


I wrote in the past that Blake Edwards’ fascination with the Pink Panther universe carries the air of a stubborn, doomed quest toward revelation, and the late failure Curse of the Pink Panther fits right in with that assessment. Things kick off with yet another heisting of the titular diamond, but this time executed so cursorily that it seems like mere referential nodding; Clouseau apprehends the perpetrators and abruptly disappears, with a bereft France summoning the world’s best remaining detective to track him down, except that the computer making the selection is secretly reprogrammed by Inspector Dreyfus to instead identify the world’s worst, Chicago officer Clifton Sleigh. As played by Ted Wass, Sleigh is indeed sufficiently inept and bumbling that several characters wonder whether he and Clouseau are related, but he’s otherwise an affectless blank, sheer dead air, which however somewhat fits the obsession with absence; the ending has the world convinced that Clouseau is indeed dead, whereas he’s actually undergone plastic surgery and is now played by Roger Moore (apparently embodying a weird simulacrum of himself, given that Sleigh recognizes him as a famous star). Edwards churns out the set pieces (miraculously-avoided assassination attempts; the mandatory car chase; any amount of falling into swimming pools and the like) with barely a hint of his formal strengths, suggesting a broader displacement and dilution of spirit. And yet, the film’s selective navigation of the Panther universe is weirdly intriguing: it reaches back to the first film to resurrect David Niven’s Charles Litton (erasing the fact that Litton was subsequently played by Christopher Plummer in Return of) and related characters while relegating Graham Stark (who, among other things, was Clouseau’s assistant in A Shot in the Dark) to the role of a waiter, in a scene in which Sleigh’s extended ineptness has the people at one adjacent table hysterically laughing as if watching the movie Edwards wanted this to be, while those at the next table are utterly oblivious, presumably more securely lodged in the fictive universe. All very strange...

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Broken Mirrors (Marleen Gorris, 1984)


Marleen Gorris’ follow-up to A Question of Silence is very much its companion piece, foregrounding some of the same actors, extending the earlier film’s questioning of the basic structures and assumptions of work and family, carrying a similar sense of a text that can’t be contained by prevailing patriarchal norms and expectations. Broken Mirrors is the more structurally ambitious film, with two intertwining narrative tracks, one located primarily within a brothel, the other tracking a serial kidnapper and killer of women: the juxtaposition of two such cinematically loaded milieus can seem strained at times, the point about contrasting forms of female powerlessness all too obvious even before one of the characters voices it explicitly near the end, but never to the point of negating the film’s overall strengths. It’s at its strongest when observing workplace activity, the women putting up with a wide spectrum of male behaviour (the “nice” clients as tediously transparent as the aggressors), the two strongest characters gradually forming an axis which ultimately allows them to stand up to a transgressing client and then to walk out (it’s telling that the image of a woman holding a gun and firing into one of the titular mirrors made it onto the film’s poster, given how wildly unrepresentative it is of the overall substance). But it’s also plain that their stand, no matter how momentarily brave, leaves the broader picture essentially unaltered (as soon as they leave, the remaining women return to their usual time-killing activities), and while one of the two says she won’t ever be back, the other can go no further than “not if it’s up to me.” The law, in the form of police or otherwise, is entirely absent: as in A Question of Silence, one leaves the film with a sense of a female discourse from which men are excluded by their very nature.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)


Looked at now, it’s hard to decide whether the ending of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is really even a remotely happy one, as opposed to a sad capitulation. Certainly the two principals (Jack Lemmon’s C. C. Baxter and Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik) regard each other with genuine-seeming delight in the final shot, and the film pulls off the conceit of the two never even using each other’s first names, let alone kissing or more; the formality and caution makes them an oasis of mutual decency and regard in a mostly crass world. But on the other hand, it’s the kind of device that obscures as much as it reveals character (likewise the snappy Wilder dialogue – “that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise’), and the film provides precious little evidence that they’re well-matched in any substantive regard (one wonders if Kubelik looks happy mostly because she knows she’ll never flip for the trying-too-hard Baxter as she has in the past for various unsuitable guys, finally giving her a protective upper hand). On the whole, one probably chooses to feel uplifted, if only because the rest of the film is so seeped in the disheartening sexual go-rounds that surround them in the workplace: the sense of a relentlessly predatory culture, of a genuinely callous attitude toward women, certainly holds up, such that the takeaway might merely be that if you find something that’s just half a step above squalidity, you shut up and deal. On the other hand, the portrayal of the office itself, with its dystopia-worthy rows of desks and its stifling hierarchies, is less productive, and at times the movie just seems grumpily dated, as in the scene of Baxter flipping through old movies and sponsor announcements in search of something to watch with his TV dinner, eventually giving up in exasperation. Whether or not one rates Wilder’s film as a masterpiece, it retains its mordant singularity, even if there’s something rather depressing about that too.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Police Python 357 (Alain Corneau, 1976)


One might approach Alain Corneau’s Police Python 357 with some trepidation given that seemingly gun-stroking title, an impression bolstered by the fetishistic opening titles, and by the knowledge that while the film casts Yves Montand (an irresistible presence throughout) as Inspector Marc Ferrot, the proud owner of the titular weapon (he even makes his own bullets), it saddles his real-life wife Simone Signoret with the far less dynamic role of a largely bed-ridden old schemer whose husband (Francois Perier, playing Ferrot’s boss Ganay) openly maintains a much younger mistress. Early on, the film may also seem overly reliant on coincidence, as the young woman, Silvia (Stefania Sandrelli) starts seeing Ferrot as well, each man becoming aware that he’s not the only one, but unaware of the other’s identity; when Ganay murders Silvia, the prime suspect is the unidentified man that neighbours and others most recently saw her with, entailing that Ferrot is effectively assigned to track down himself. But Corneau keeps things unpredictable, and slyly subverts expectations throughout, intercutting Sylvia’s murder with a goofy scene of a drunk Ferrot opening the back of a parked truck to release its cargo of pigs, and later having Ferrot (for whom the affair seems to have been a radical deviation from a buttoned-down existence) go to extremes to avoid being in the same room with witnesses whom he knows will recognize him, first by barging into a heated group of strikers and getting himself beaten up, and later by throwing acid onto his own face and permanently disfiguring himself. The finale showcases Ferrot’s personal courage and marksmanship, but any sense of triumph is by then heavily offset by the character’s diminished physical, professional and psychic state; likewise, Montand and Signoret only really have one scene together, an extremely bleak one that subverts any likely expectation for such a star pairing.