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Judex (1916, Louis Feuillade), Episode 4: The Secret of the Tomb

I was wondering how Judex was going to move forward–the last chapter ended with villains Musidora and Jean Devalde foiled in their kidnapping of Yvette Andréyor. This chapter begins with Musidora suspicious of Judex’s warnings. She convinces Devalde to investigate and they head to the graveyard. Because why wouldn’t you immediately assume there’s something fishy about someone’s death from the tense in a note.

Hence The Secret of the Tomb. Upon discovering Louis Leubas’s coffin empty, Musidora tracks down lovable private investigator Marcel Lévesque. He’s not lovable for long, however, as he throws in with Musidora and Devalde in an attempt to recover Leubas’s fortunes. Since he’s alive, Andréyor’s donation of them can be overturned.

So, being villainous (and both Musidora and Devalde are exceptional this chapter, particularly as Devalde becomes wary of their schemes and Musidora threatens him back into line), they decide to kill Andréyor.

For some reason it requires them to lure her to the countryside where her son, Olinda Mano, is in hiding. Luckily, Mano and his street-wise compatriot René Poyen are playing on the river where the villains toss Andréyor.

Where’s Judex (René Cresté) during all these goings on? Breaking in Gaston Michel as a combination butler for the underground base and jailer for Leubas.

Poyen’s fantastic here too. He’s turning out to be a better hero than Cresté.

The chapter drags a little–Andréyor has apparently been reduced to a rarely conscious damsel in distress–but the actors get it through just fine.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Feuillade; written by Arthur Bernède and Feuillade; directors of photography, André Glatti and Léon Klausse; production designer, Robert-Jules Garnier; released by Gaumont.

Starring René Cresté (Judex), Yvette Andréyor (Jacqueline Aubry), Musidora (Diana Monti), Louis Leubas (Favraux), Marcel Lévesque (Cocantin), Jean Devalde (Robert Moralés), Édouard Mathé (Roger de Tremeuse), Olinda Mano (Jean), René Poyen (The Licorice Kid), Gaston Michel (Pierre Kerjean), Lily Deligny (Miss Daisy Torp), Juliette Clarens (Gisèle), Georges Flateau (Vicomte de la Rochefontaine), and Yvonne Dario (Comtesse de Tremeuse).


Judex (1916, Louis Feuillade), Episode 3: The Fantastic Hounds

The Fantastic Hounds seems like a silly name for the chapter, but it turns out Judex’s dog pack is rather fantastic. They aren’t just able to sniff out kidnapped Yvette Andréyor, they’re able to rescue her. Sure, a ten or twenty dog pack is intimidating, but they execute their mission perfectly. Kudos to whoever trained the dogs.

But the dogs don’t open the chapter. Instead, it’s the brother of Juliette Clarens; the actor is unfortunately uncredited. Musidora and Jean Devalde shake him down for double the “ransom” on Andréyor (they’d kidnapped her so the brother could prove his worth by rescuing her). The brother turns to Clarens, who turns to their father (actor also uncredited). It’s a nice bit of acting from all concerned as the brother has to own up. Silly rich people, thinking they can just have complication free kidnappings.

So Feuillade splits the action between the brother, his family, the criminals, and then Judex and his brother. As the brother, Édouard Mathé ends up with more to do this chapter–even if he’s clearly the sidekick, though René Cresté finally gets some material in the title role. He’s mostly mooning over Andréyor, but it’s rather sweet.

After her rescue, Andréyor then has to deal with son Olinda Mano running away from hiding to visit her. Fantastic Hounds switches gears from action to family drama beautifully. The scenes with Andréyor and Mano are great.

But it’s still not over–Fantastic Hounds runs around thirty-seven minutes–because Feuillade and co-writer Arthur Bernède have another reveal. Gaston Michel didn’t die in the prologue. It’s unclear if it’s supposed to be a surprise. I just assumed he died.

Michel joins the Judex team, though so far his only job appears to be tormenting their captive–Louis Leubas.

There’s some lovely filmmaking from Feuillade here, particularly when Cresté daydreams of Andréyor who’s daydreaming of Mano. Very smooth.

Though he does have his weird perspective jump cut again at least once in Hounds (which is when the close-up jarringly changes angle from the long shot).

The Fantastic Hounds feels very much like the end of Judex’s first act.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Feuillade; written by Arthur Bernède and Feuillade; directors of photography, André Glatti and Léon Klausse; production designer, Robert-Jules Garnier; released by Gaumont.

Starring René Cresté (Judex), Yvette Andréyor (Jacqueline Aubry), Musidora (Diana Monti), Louis Leubas (Favraux), Marcel Lévesque (Cocantin), Jean Devalde (Robert Moralés), Édouard Mathé (Roger de Tremeuse), Olinda Mano (Jean), René Poyen (The Licorice Kid), Gaston Michel (Pierre Kerjean), Lily Deligny (Miss Daisy Torp), Juliette Clarens (Gisèle), Georges Flateau (Vicomte de la Rochefontaine), and Yvonne Dario (Comtesse de Tremeuse).


Judex (1916, Louis Feuillade), Episode 2: The Atonement

The Atonement might be a peculiar chapter for Judex; since it’s only the second one, however, maybe it’s going to be the norm.

It starts with Judex gently intimidating his captive–Louis Leubas. At first, it seems like Leubas is going to be doing some atoning. It’s also where Feuillade has some continuity issues–which the intertitles further confuse (it says Leubas has only been locked up a day, but it’s been at least a month). Except it turns out it’s just a check-in with Leubas, because then it becomes this adorable children’s adventure.

Leubas’s grandson, Olinda Mano, runs away to his mother (in her new home under an assumed identity). He makes it to Paris all right, but then he needs the help of street urchin René Poyen to get the rest of the way. It’s fun, light, and sweet. Poyen’s a better actor than Mano; their fast friendship is rather touching, especially since Mano’s just been an accessory to this point.

Only his mom–Yvette Andréyor–is still in the midst of her new kidnapping plot, with villain Musidora discovering Andréyor isn’t just some piano teacher to kidnap for a wealthy admirer, but Leubas’s daughter. Musidora had hoped to seduce Leubas’s fortune away from him (before he was “murdered”).

Luckily, Mano releases the pigeons–just because he’s a kid–meant to notify Judex when Andréyor is in danger.

There’s a good deal of Judex at the beginning of the chapter, but the end has René Cresté assume the lead role in the serial. He gets his hero’s exit from the cave–horse, pack of tracking dogs, cape. He might already have on the cape.

Feuillade does a great job with this part, the adventuring part. And with the finale where Cresté–tall, gaunt, frightening–warms to Mano before heading out to rescue Andréyor.

It’s a concise, exquisitely paced chapter. Feuillade and co-writer Arthur Bernède structure this chapter’s cliffhanger just right. Technically a soft cliffhanger–no one on screen is in immediate danger–but still with the hardness of Andréyor in danger.

Good stuff.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Feuillade; written by Arthur Bernède and Feuillade; directors of photography, André Glatti and Léon Klausse; production designer, Robert-Jules Garnier; released by Gaumont.

Starring René Cresté (Judex), Yvette Andréyor (Jacqueline Aubry), Musidora (Diana Monti), Louis Leubas (Favraux), Marcel Lévesque (Cocantin), Jean Devalde (Robert Moralés), Édouard Mathé (Roger de Tremeuse), Olinda Mano (Jean), René Poyen (The Licorice Kid), Gaston Michel (Pierre Kerjean), Lily Deligny (Miss Daisy Torp), Juliette Clarens (Gisèle), Georges Flateau (Vicomte de la Rochefontaine), and Yvonne Dario (Comtesse de Tremeuse).


Judex (1916, Louis Feuillade), Episode 1: The Mysterious Shadow

The first chapter (proper) immediately follows the prologue, with Yvette Andréyor taking over the lead (possibly for the rest of Judex). Unlike her father, she’s swayed by the mysterious Judex’s demand–half her father’s fortune was to go to charity or he’d be killed.

Andréyor, shedding herself of gold-digging fiancé Georges Flateau, gives away the entire fortune before her father’s even in the ground. Including the family castle. So Andréyor has to send away her adorable son and move away, in anonymity, to make a paltry living teaching piano and English.

Meanwhile, The Mysterious Shadow introduces Judex. He’s a tall skinny guy (René Cresté) with a distinct hat and cape. He makes a base underneath some ruins. His base, however, is not the ruins. It’s a very modern base. There, his brother (Édouard Mathé) works as sidekick… resurrecting Andréyor’s father (Louis Leubas). Judex, it turns out, isn’t a murderer. In fact, he’s a little sweet on Andréyor, finding her in her self-imposed exile, and promising to come to her aid if needed.

Turns out she might need the aid because one of her students has a scummy brother who tries forcing himself on her. Andréyor fights him off, only for the man to complain to already introduced criminal types Musidora (who lost her fake job as governess when Andréyor gave away the fortune) and Jean Devalde. Devalde hatches a plan to kidnap Andréyor, unaware of her true identity.

There’s a lot of story this chapter. Director Feuillade keeps it moving, with Andréyor an extremely sympathetic protagonist. Feuillade’s shots are more distinct this chapter–he really likes vertical composition. He also has one and a half jarring jump cuts. The vertical composition is far more successful.

Hopefully goofy (but well-meaning) private investigator Marcel Lévesque gets to come back. He too gets the boot with Andréyor’s dissolving of her estate.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Feuillade; written by Arthur Bernède and Feuillade; directors of photography, André Glatti and Léon Klausse; production designer, Robert-Jules Garnier; released by Gaumont.

Starring René Cresté (Judex), Yvette Andréyor (Jacqueline Aubry), Musidora (Diana Monti), Louis Leubas (Favraux), Marcel Lévesque (Cocantin), Jean Devalde (Robert Moralés), Édouard Mathé (Roger de Tremeuse), Olinda Mano (Jean), René Poyen (The Licorice Kid), Gaston Michel (Pierre Kerjean), Lily Deligny (Miss Daisy Torp), Juliette Clarens (Gisèle), Georges Flateau (Vicomte de la Rochefontaine), and Yvonne Dario (Comtesse de Tremeuse).


Judex (1916, Louis Feuillade), Prologue

The prologue to Judex mostly concerns banker Louis Leubas. He’s rich, he’s French, he’s corrupt. He wants to carry on with a younger woman–Musidora–but he’s got a widowed daughter (Yvette Andréyor) and a grandson living with him. So he decides to marry off Andréyor to a presumably suitable suitor (Georges Flateau) and settle in with Musidora.

Musidora, however, is actually in league with villain Jean Devalde (though his villainy is only defined by his status as an ex-con, which is peculiar given something I’ll get to in a moment). It’s okay though, because Flateau is in debt up to his ears and probably only interested in marrying Andréyor for her money.

Everything is going along fine–at least so far as Leubas knows–until an aged man shows up at the castle gate. Leubas is castle rich; it turns out it’s partially because he’s been ripping people off for years. The old man, Gaston Michel, has been in prison twenty years; Leubas bankrupted him before Michel turned to a life of crime. So, not all ex-cons are bad.

Leubas isn’t satisfied turning Michel away (though Michel just wanted some help reuniting with his missing son). Leubas runs Michel down because the old man won’t get aside for Leubas’s car.

Leubas goes from being a dirty old man to a villain real quick.

But then Leubas gets a threatening letter signed Judex and employs private detective Marcel Lévesque to protect him.

Can Lévesque–a newbie to the private investigation game–keep his client safe?

As a prologue, it’s a little odd. There’s very little hint at what’s going to come subsequent. No one gets much time onscreen except Leubas (and, eventually, Lévesque). Lévesque is rather funny, but he’s still probably not going to be a consequential character in the rest of the serial.

It all moves well–director Feuillade and co-writer Arthur Bernède fit a lot in–but it’s Leubas’s show. And he’s not going to be a big part of what comes. So as a narrative prologue, it works. As a pilot for the serial proper? Not so much. Presumably the next chapter will give a better indication of how Judex is going to play.

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Feuillade; written by Arthur Bernède and Feuillade; directors of photography, André Glatti and Léon Klausse; production designer, Robert-Jules Garnier; released by Gaumont.

Starring René Cresté (Judex), Yvette Andréyor (Jacqueline Aubry), Musidora (Diana Monti), Louis Leubas (Favraux), Marcel Lévesque (Cocantin), Jean Devalde (Robert Moralés), Édouard Mathé (Roger de Tremeuse), Olinda Mano (Jean), René Poyen (The Licorice Kid), Gaston Michel (Pierre Kerjean), Lily Deligny (Miss Daisy Torp), Juliette Clarens (Gisèle), Georges Flateau (Vicomte de la Rochefontaine), and Yvonne Dario (Comtesse de Tremeuse).


Mon Oncle (1958, Jacques Tati)

Mon Oncle has a concerning amount of narrative. Way too much of the film is about Jean-Pierre Zola and Adrienne Servantie’s bourgeois ultra-modern couple fretting over their son’s affection for his uncle, played by writer-director Tati.

Tati’s protagonist does not live in the automated home of Zola and Servantie, but in a quainter, more traditional part of the city. There are these lovely sequences–Suzanne Baron’s editing and Jean Bourgoin’s photography are magnificent–with a pack of dogs running between new and old. It’s one of Tati’s best repetitions in the film.

The story takes place over a few days (or at least gives that impression). Over that time, Zola gets so fed up with Tati, things just have to change. Except all of these exasperating situations are contrived, whether it’s Zola trying to get Tati a job multiple times or Servantie trying to set him up with a woman. The nephew, played by Alain Bécourt, follows Tati around but they don’t have a relationship. The film’s best relationship is probably Tati and his young neighbor, Betty Schneider. She’s becoming a young woman (and does by the end of the film, which makes no sense since it takes place over a few days) and their relationship is adorable.

Uncle goes on and on, with Tati filling the lackluster second half with lots of somewhat cheap gags. He never uses Henri Schmitt’s sets to full potential.

The first half’s good, but when it needs to progress, it flops.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jacques Tati; screenplay by Tati, based on a story by Tati, Jacques Lagrange and Jean L’Hôte; director of photography, Jean Bourgeon; edited by Suzanne Baron; music by Franck Barcellini and Alains Romans; production designer, Henri Schmitt; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Jean-Pierre Zola (Charles Arpel), Adrienne Servantie (Madame Arpel), Alain Bécourt (Gerard Arpel), Lucien Frégis (Monsieur Pichard), Betty Schneider (Betty, Landlord’s Daughter), Jean-François Martial (Walter), Dominique Marie (Neighbor), Yvonne Arnaud (Georgette) and Adelaide Danieli (Madame Pichard).


The Vampires: The Ring That Kills (1915, Louis Feuillade)

In The Ring That Kills, Feuillade goes with a gradual build-up and a rather tense finish. There’s no recap of the previous Vampires entry, which gets confusing towards the end, when a supporting character returns.

Feuillade uses that character, played by Marcel Lévesque, as comic relief. He’s just revealed the Vampires evil plan for protagonist Édouard Mathé and things aren’t looking good for him.

Then Lévesque bumbles in and relieves a bunch of the tension for a while.

That scene is the best in the short, which has some other good scenes, but it’s where Feuillade finally takes a breather.

Early in Ring, he introduces Stacia Napierkowska as a dancer (and Mathé’s romantic interest). Mathé, being a dedicated reporter, however, abandons her to pursue the Vampires gang and finds himself in the aforementioned hot water.

It’s a fun short, with Napierkowska’s winged ballet visually stunning if somewhat tepid dramatically.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Louis Feuillade; director of photography, Manichoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Édouard Mathé (Philippe Guérande), Jean Aymé (Dr. Nox), Stacia Napierkowska (Marfa Koutiloff) and Marcel Lévesque (Oscar Mazamette).


The Vampires: The Severed Head (1915, Louis Feuillade)

I probably should have paid more attention to The Severed Head‘s title. Even when the discussion of a decapitated murder victim came up, the title didn’t register any significance.

Guess what? Director Feuillade gets in a severed head. I didn’t even think the murder case mattered, since most of the short concerns reporter Édouard Mathé visiting an old family friend–played by Jean Aymé–who is selling his home to a wealthy American (Rita Herlor).

Mentioning Feuillade has a severed head in the short doesn’t really give anything away. The big finale involves something else unexpected entirely.

Since there’s no real drama–for a while I thought it was about Mathé messing up Aymé’s home sale–all attention goes to Feuillade’s direction.

He’s competent, though he repeatedly gets establishing shots and emphasis shots backwards.

Feuillade’s more interested in his plot, which complicates itself throughout.

With that emphasis, Head mildly intrigues.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Louis Feuillade; director of photography, Manichoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Édouard Mathé (Philippe Guérande), Jean Aymé (Dr. Nox), Rita Herlor (Mrs. Simpson), Marcel Lévesque (Oscar Mazamette) and Thelès (The Magistrate).


Léon (1994, Luc Besson), the long version

When he’s doing good work, Luc Besson makes these transcendent films, but even some of his lesser works often have some moments with that quality.

Léon does not.

Many of the elements are there–but something’s off. Maybe it’s something simple, like Jean Reno is supposed to be playing an Italian immigrant who, apparently, just acts really French. Maybe it’s Gary Oldman’s histrionics. But, while both those things are definitely contributors to the film’s general failure, it’s mostly because Besson doesn’t really know what he’s doing with Natalie Portman.

If the film worked, it’d be a brilliant metaphor about her character’s transition into puberty… it’d be the Iron John for girls, only with guns.

And it’s never clear if Besson even realizes he had a real opportunity. One of the major problem’s with Besson’s films are how simplistic he gets when it comes to human emotions. In Léon, he tries hard to talk about emotions as much as possible. But it’s just talk.

Portman’s performance is excellent–so excellent she gave nearly identical performances a couple more times (Beautiful Girls and Heat)–but it should have been clear she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Besson’s characters in Léon are some of his most shallow–quite an achievement since shallowly conceived characters are a Besson staple–but at least Reno and Oldman are somewhat supposed to be ciphers. Portman’s character isn’t, but all the exposition is ludicrous.

Léon‘s a really boring film without much value. But it is competently produced.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luc Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean Reno (Léon), Gary Oldman (Stansfield), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Danny Aiello (Tony), Peter Appel (Malky), Willi One Blood (1st Stansfield man), Don Creech (2nd Stansfield man), Keith A. Glascoe (3rd Stansfield man), Randolph Scott (4th Stansfield man), Michael Badalucco (Mathilda’s Father), Ellen Greene (Mathilda’s Mother), Elizabeth Regen (Mathilda’s Sister), Carl J. Matusovich (Mathilda’s Brother) and Frank Senger (Fatman).


JCVD (2008, Mabrouk El Mechri)

JCVD might be the ultimate vanity project. I’m not sure if there’s any intention in Van Damme trying to rehabilitate his image–his fans will be his fans no matter what, something the film touches on–but it’s kind of spectacular in its purity. Van Damme’s a well-known punch line, a leftover from the 1990s, and he knows it. What’s strangest about the film is that self-awareness. Van Damme gives a good performance as “himself,” even if his movie personality is a little different (more affecting but generally true) than the real Van Damme.

It’s a rouse–there’s a long aside, which starts on shaky ground because of its presentation (and what’s a theatrical aside doing in a rather cinéma vérité film) but eventually comes around because Van Damme’s actually really good delivering it. He kind of loses it at the end, but due to the presentation technicalities, not his delivery. But part of JCVD is accepting the rouse, participating in it. It’s Van Damme laughing at himself, but not so much, because he’s one of maybe three people who could make a movie like this one.

Nothing I’d read about the film actually prepared me for its actual content. JCVD drops a cheesy action movie star in the middle of a real bank robbery. That Van Damme’s in his native Belgium where everyone loves him–regardless of this detail’s veracity, it’s constantly amusing–turns the unlikely situation into Dog Day Afternoon. The dynamics of the bank robbery are what set JCVD apart. It’s a movie situation handled in an anti-cinematic manner. The bank is awkwardly laid-out, so it’s hard to know where people are located, not the ideal for the hostage drama. The dynamic between the robbers–one idolizes Van Damme, another is seriously disturbed, none are very smart–provides a lot of drama to the film, which lets Van Damme sort of be.

Van Damme’s bad day–a failed custody hearing, money troubles, career woes–all comes off as a little contrived. It’s effective because of El Mechri and his approach. There are frequent small cuts to give off the vérité feel; they work, even if they’re somewhat suspect. And Van Damme’s willing to mock himself, his image and everything else. But he’s mostly laughing at the audience, because the film’s positing its Van Damme could never do anything like this film, this singularity in a career otherwise exclusively straight to DVD, but here he is doing it and succeeding at it.

In the end, Van Damme doesn’t actually pull it off. He tries to though and makes the grade for effort. It’s strange to watch him act in the last scenes, because he’s trying real, real hard, but he can’t attain the sublime. But it’s fine acting and the film’s full of it. But since he’s the whole show, it’s hard to talk about anyone else.

If JCVD were a coda, it’d be a coda to a career undeserving of it, but it’s not a coda. Even if it’s unable to achieve the singularity it’s going for, it’s still distinct.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri; written by Frédéric Bénudis, Mechri and Christophe Turpin; director of photography, Pierre-Yves Bastard; edited by Lako Kelber; music by Gast Waltzing; produced by Sidonie Dumas; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD), François Damiens (Bruges), Zinedine Soualem (the man with the bonnet), Karim Belkhadra (the watchmen), Jean-François Wolff (the thirty-one-year old) and Anne Paulicevich (the clerk).


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