Thursday, January 10, 2008
The Wild Bunch: Cinema du Look 1981-1994
It has been just over twenty five years since Jean-Jacques Beineix's DIVA landed on American shores and alerted audiences that the freshest and most exciting filmmakers were once again coming out of France.
The 'Cinema du Look' movement was an explosion of style, color, fashion, emotion and the three directors most often associated with it produced some of the most recognizable and influential films of the eighties and nineties. The work of Jean-Jacques Beineix, Luc Besson and Leos Carax doesn't get the respect or attention it deserves, at least here in the United States, so here is a small tribute to my favorite films from these three iconic directors, one of which my little blog took its name from.
Born 1946 in Paris.
1. THE MOON IN THE GUTTER (1983): Beineix's most controversial film is the ultimate Cinema du Look film. Stylish, shocking, frustrating and never less than brilliant, Beineix manages to pull in influences ranging from American film noir to the Italian Giallo in the most audacious manner possible. My long look at the film can be found here.
2. BETTY BLUE (1986): The heart of Cinema du Look and the introduction to perhaps is greatest discovery, L'Enfant sauvage Beatrice Dalle.
3. DIVA (1981): The film that kick started the movement remains one of the most visionary and entertaining works of the eighties. Beineix's command of the medium this early on is frankly astounding.
4. ROSELYNE AND THE LIONS (1989): Beineix begins to slip here but it's still a gorgeous underrated production that deserves more recognition.
5. IP5 (1992): An oddly touching but flawed production that teamed Beaineix with French legend Yves Montand.
MORTAL TRANSFER (2001)
Born 1959 in Paris
1. LEON (1994): The movement's swan song and one of its greatest achievements. The westernization hinted at in Besson's early productions is near complete here but it strangely only adds to his obvious brilliance and mastery of the medium.
2. SUBWAY (1985): One of the ultimate punk films...silly, moving, bold, sublime and masterful. A simultaneous embracing and rejection of the New Wave Besson grew up with.
3. THE FINAL COMBAT (1983): Besson's feature length debut remains as strange, flawed and as refreshing as ever. This must have felt like a kick in the head to audiences back in the early eighties who had given up on French cinema as a combative force.
4. THE BIG BLUE (1988): Unbelievably beautiful but vacant production that features some of the most unforgettable and strange images of the whole movement.
5. LA FEMME NIKITA (1990): The movement's most overrated production is ironically the easiest to see. Problems aside, the influence of the film cannot be denied but I will always prefer John Badham's underrated remake with Bridget Fonda.
THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)
THE MESSENGER (1999)
ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES (2006)
Born 1960 in Paris
1. THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE (1991): "Let Paris Rot" indeed. Not just one of the great modern French films but one of the key works of the past few decades.
2. BAD BLOOD (1986): MAUVAIS SANG remains the most Godardian of all the Cinema Du Look's works and it is still a beautiful and imaginative work of art that would mark the team of Carax and Binoche as one of the most remarkable in modern cinema.
3. BOY MEETS GIRL (1984): Compelling and uncompromising first film from the just 23 year old Carax.
POLA X (1999)
I hope to write in detail on all of the above works eventually. French cinema in the eighties of course gave birth to many more great directors (not to mention an incredible number of astonishing performers) but the small body of work by these three men remains a particularly resonate snapshot of a very special time. The relative unavailability of several of the above films shows that they still haven't gotten the due they deserve, at least in America.