XL Popcorn – La Belle Noiseuse / Fires Were Started

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: La Belle Noiseuse
Director: Jacques Rivette
Year: 1991
Country: France

The runtimes of the movies on the 1001 list average out at around 2 hours. There are extremes with the longest film taking around 10 hours and the shortest being about 20 minutes. If you take out the anomalous films you are left with a ceiling of around 4 hours. So far I’ve been making sure that whenever I see a film on the shorter end of the spectrum it is paired with a mammoth. La Belle Noiseuse is today’s mammoth clocking in at exactly 4 hours.

From comments I have seen about this film I expected to find this a total bore. Comments included things like “watching paint dry” and “insufferable”. So there was me poised with a blanket waiting for a good solid nap that never came.

Despite the fact that this was a 4 hour film where a lot of it was silent and/or involved close ups of an artist making sketches I was always invested. It’s just funny that this incredibly long film was far more engaging to me than L’Argent, which was less than 90 minutes in length.

The premise of La Belle Noiseuse is a simple one. You are watching a week, possibly less, in the life of an artist and his model. The artist (Michel Piccoli) has not had the inspiration to paint for 10 years. It is the hope of his agent that the painter will be able to break his ” painter’s block” with the help of a new model. Only she does not know about being volunteered until the night before. What unfolds is a complex relationship where they break each other down psychologically and emotionally until he is able to complete his painting (the titular La Belle Noiseuse which means “the beautiful troublemaker” in English).

The interplay that we see between Michel Piccoli and Emmanuelle Béart is what keeps this film incredibly interesting. There is no denying that Emmanuelle Béart is absolutely stunning. That look of defiance that she gives when modeling just cuts through you. I would be angry if my boyfriend volunteer me to model nude for someone I didn’t know (or for someone I did know if I am being perfectly honest). However there is so much more in that look, and that is what the painter is trying to find as he paints.

I don’t want to give too much away because once you get into this film is easy to get a spoiler territory. Everything in this film is remarkably human. The relationships between the painter, his wife, the model and her boyfriend all become very much intertwined (not sexually of course as that would take it out of the realm of reality and into some stupid fantasy). As the painter paints everyone is confronted with the same question: do I like myself? The whole point of his painting is to crystallise the truth of whoever it is that models for him. By extension, he must unconsciously be doing that with everyone he meets which would put anyone on edge. You feel deeply for the wife (Jane Birkin) as, being his former model, she will be feeling replaced. So too does the boyfriend who starts to feel the pangs of jealousy.

I’m not a painter, not by long shot. Therefore I never realized just how primal the relationship between painter and model could be. It made for a strangely compelling 4 hours that just flew by. I looked up and suddenly the sun had set and I was surrounded by darkness where I swear it had only just been mid-afternoon.

Title: Fires Were Started
Director: Humphrey Jennings
Year: 1943
Country: UK

I figured that I would pair one of the longest films with one of the shortest films. Fires Were Started clocks in at just over an hour and is a documentary film depicting the London fire service during the blitz. It was released in 1943 and served as a piece of propaganda in all Allied countries.

I say it is a documentary as that is what other critics have called it. However, everything here is fictionalised. Sure the director has used actual firemen and firewomen to act in this film, but let’s not beat about the bush. It is hard for me to look at this film is anything other than propaganda. Is the same problem that I had with Mrs. Miniver as when the spectre of propaganda hangs over a movie you become very aware of how they’re trying to sway you. It IS the job of any film to evoke emotion or to provide information after all. And yet the moment you slap the label of propaganda on any film it starts to lose credibility.

As documentary films go Fires Were Started is actually quite subpar. This isn’t just me reacting against a propaganda tool, after all I think Disney created some fantastic cartoons in the name of propaganda. It just never took off. And yes I am saying that an exploding warehouse is the documentary not taking off. We spend 15 minutes in the beginning with the firemen at the fire station. This is obviously an attempt to humanise them in preparation for their imminent danger. However, I don’t think this was done well enough. I think this is where some sort of narration or interviews could have come in useful; at least we could pretend it is a proper documentary and not docufiction.

This is in no way diminishing the work done by the fire service and every other volunteer group during the blitz. What they had to deal with was atrocious and they were heroes Britain needed at that time. I am sure that interviews with them would have been a far more effective piece of propaganda them what this was. Then again, what do I know? It’s not as if I studied propaganda and its effects at any length. I just feel that they were had a proper film and not this.

Progress: 512/1007

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