Brooks, Hansen-Løve, Noyce, Polanski, Teshigahara

The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce, 2002). Occasionally there will be a movie that adheres to a classic narrative structure that is also stolid, humorless and painfully dull that a small but vocal bundle of critics will tout as a dwindling example of cinematic material created for adults. I get that full-time critics were spending the end of 2002 gritting their teeth and covering their eyes while watching supposed comedies and franchise-killing sequels, but they still needed to grade on a helluva curve to find nice things to say about this dire adaptation of the Graham Greene novel. Michael Caine received his sixth and perhaps final Oscar nomination as a British journalist stationed in Vietnam in the early nineteen-fifties, reporting on the end of one war and gradually realizing that American agents are laying the groundwork to bungle into another. Award attention or not, Caine is leaden in the role, withdrawn and internalized to a fault. At least he’s respectable, a term that can’t be bestowed up Brendan Fraser, entirely out of his depth as a compromised American. Philip Noyce directs with a sedateness that suggests he’s concerned he might wake someone if he’s not careful.

The Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2009). Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s ruminative drama focuses on a French film producer named Grégoire, played by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing. He has a reputation for prioritizing artistry over profits, and it gradually becomes clear that this has put his company into a dire financial situation. His hectic work life is contrasted with the far calmer, clearly nurturing time he spends with his wife and three daughters. Hansen-Løve’s approach is so relaxed that it’s initially difficulty to determine exactly where the film’s gravitation pull is coming from. Then the film takes a grim turn, and it becomes clear that there’s a sly upending of narrative conventions at play against a European considerations of fate, mortality, love and family that is characteristically chilly. The film is perhaps too formally refined to provide the sort of emotional tug that would be gratifying, but Hansen-Løve’s covert shrewdness can’t be denied.

Deadline – U.S.A. (Richard Brooks, 1952). Just the third directorial effort by Brooks to be released, Deadline – U.S.A. is a stern snarl of film noir, casting Humphrey Bogart as the editor of a big city newspaper who gets word that the publication’s sale to a competitor is pending and they’re sure to be shut down. He starts his own fiery crusade to save the paper, either by nabbing the one big story that will prove the value of the the hard-hitting journalism he and his cohorts practice or through arguing against the validity of the purchase in court. Brooks taps into the sweaty urgency of the story, ultimately packing the film with characters and competing storylines slightly past its breaking point. In particular, a subplot centered on the pending remarriage of the ex-wife of Bogart’s character starts to feel a little obligatory. It’s sadly amazing how pertinent some of the film’s commentary on journalism remains.

Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski, 1962). Roman Polanski’s feature directorial debut is, in many ways, simplicity itself: a couple picks up a hitchhiker on the way to an overnight excursion on their boat, eventually inviting him to join them out on the water. The film is a study in competitive psychological bullying as every combination in the trio, but especially the two men, engage in bitter bouts of immature one-upsmanship. While not every detail in the script Polanksi wrote with Jakub Goldberg makes perfect sense, the director has style to spare and always strikes the right balance between style and clear, concise storytelling. He’s clearly finding his way somewhat, but the visual panache that was his trademark for the bulk of his career is already winningly evident.

Pitfall (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1962). Pitfall is the debut feature from Hiroshi Teshigahara, who years later became the first Asian nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (for The Woman in the Dunes) and still remains the only Japanese director besides the great Akira Kurosawa to be so cited. The film is dreamlike–even boasting a touch of the surreal–as it follows the conflict between dueling unions at a couple of different area coal mines. There is an almost spectral menace that sets the misery into motion with the assassination of a seemingly unrelated figure, an action that may or may not have been intentional. Teshigahara directs with a sublime steadiness that is instrumental to the film remaining effective as ghosts and other untethered elements come into play. It merges mood and political pointedness in striking ways.

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