Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. Also check out our From Our Netflix Queue series, highlighting worthwhile films and TV series that are available on Netflix Instant Watch.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
1975 France. Director: Chantal Akerman. Starring: Delphine Seyrig.
So if you have three and a half hours to kill and feel like watching a French woman go about her mundane daily tasks (cooking, going to the store, dusting, watching a neighbor’s baby, getting supper for her teenaged son, etc.), this is the film for you! More seriously, even though this film sounds like drudgery to watch, I actually found it quite fascinating – the inherent level of boredom in watching someone knead bread for ten minutes from a static camera shot is extremely intentional (and obviously so). As you watch Jeanne carry out her day, you wonder if she has anything to break the monotony – turns out she does, in the form of male clients who stop by daily for her services, the money from which is the basis of her and her son’s livelihood. But even this is treated with the same noncommittal, quiet distance. There is dialogue in the film, but it feels incidental, unimportant. The film eventually becomes a subdued but powerful feminist statement that makes its point without bombast, without emotion, and without manipulation – when I was first watching it, I thought, there’s no glory or tragedy here, it simply IS, but there is tragedy. The tragedy is of a woman whose identity, whose existence, is seen as the one who does these things – cook, clean, act as passive object for male gratification. Jeanne does all this uncomplainingly, but the wear is there. When she tries to write a letter, an act of creativity, she cannot. She is too tired. She has few friends (one woman who visits her stands outside the door, out of shot, and talks incessantly about troubles with her kids, then abruptly leaves), no hobbies, no life outside this. While extreme, Akerman’s point and the form of her film walk hand in hand. We’re seeing the in-betweens, the things that other films leave out, but are a daily part of life – but a life of in-betweens cannot be sustained forever, and this film gets that across extremely well.
This Gun For Hire
1942 USA. Director: Frank Tuttle. Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake.
Admittedly, I caught this classic Film Noir entirely because of my fascination with Veronica Lake, a carryover of my love for her in Sullivan’s Travels. Lake has an unconventional look by Hollywood glamor standards, and certainly by standards nowadays: surprisingly short, this wavy-blonde temptress has an ability to speak without moving much of her face; while appearing perpetually tired she gives her lines without any of the theatrical affectations common to this era. Put simply: Veronica Lake’s acting style is more mumblecore than Classic Hollywood, which makes for a fascinating incongruity. In This Gun for Hire, she plays the femme fatale to Alan Ladd’s on-the-run hitman. Starting off in San Francisco their separate stories eventually cross paths on a train to Los Angeles. Their mutual acquaintance, a businessman of the chemical industry, mistakes them for vengeful collaborators which triggers a series of unfortunate events as the duo fight against the powers that be on the wrong side of the law. You know the drill. This Gun for Hire hits the familiar beats of the Noir genre, and does so efficiently, the story bouncing along at almost break-neck speed, making for a satisfyingly short excuse to watch Veronica Lake. Added bonus: the film provides the source material for Mr Burns and Smithers from The Simpsons as members of the higher echelon of the chemical company. Their appearances and affiliation with the chemical industry make it an uncanny link.