We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.
Two years ago I watched Finye in order to add Mali to my list of 100 countries. This means that with Brightness I have now seen two films by acclaimed African director Souleymane Cissé. Strange how my quest for film leads to these coincidences.
I’m not gonna be able to say much about this film as that is how little is staying power it had on me. The one positive I can glean from this film is that there is some beautiful scenery in this neck of the woods.
One thing we tend to take for granted in many films is that it contains trained actors. It’s like that moment in There’s Something About Mary when Brett Favre shows up and suddenly part of the film illusion is shattered as there is someone onscreen who cannot act. Brightness features very few people where you can find them believable.
Due to this, a lot of bluster involving different sacred animals and chickens being burned alive this film is quite impenetrable. Especially if you’re on painkillers where concentration is difficult to force. I saw this the same day as Written on the Wind so I know it is not just me. There are just films that go over your head or just don’t interest you.
Early sound films are always interesting to watch as there is an experimental feel to a lot of them. À Nous la Liberté is a very early example of a French talkie – something that you can tell without knowing its year of release.
So what gives films like this away? Well, it’s the sound. There are little things like a hankerchief being torn with no acccompanying noise, but there are pretty much no ambient sounds in this film. I mean take a scene in the latter part of the film where there is a stampede caused by money – the only sound is the music. Also, a lot of the sound effects are created by instruments instead of something that sounds more realistic.
Also of interest is how this film resulted in a decade long lawsuit against Charlie Chaplin. If you have seen both À Nous la Liberté and Modern Times you will notice a big similarity between some of the conveyor belt sequences. Where Chaplin played it for laughs Clair was using it as a comparison between the lot of the industrial workers and prisoners.
Despite being light-hearted À Nous la Liberté is quite a political film in places. The depiction of workers conditions and the stuffy shirts of the richer and disinterested class do feel like a jab against France at the time. The title and main song of the film talks of freedom, but the moment someone decides to take a rest in a field they get locked up because work is mandatory. This leads to a weird part involving singing flowers that I am going to just gloss over.
One thing I enjoyed about this film was the set design. I swear that after sound came in the big specially built sets you used to see in the likes of Metropolis or The Crowd just did not exist anymore. I guess that there was this move towards realism which meant these were no longer required unless the filmmaker was trying to create a sense of a strange future (like in Brazil). I’m not alone with this considering À Nous la Liberté was the first non-English film to receive an Oscar nomination (for Art Direction).
It’s an interesting film to watch from a modern perspective and an example of just how experimental directors can be when presented with a new technology.