Dizzying Distortions


On Screen DIZZYING DISTORTIONS BY JOHN SIMON Francois Truffaut's Two English Girls is a disappointment, even coming from a filmmaker who has already made ample use of the artist's right to...

...On Screen DIZZYING DISTORTIONS BY JOHN SIMON Francois Truffaut's Two English Girls is a disappointment, even coming from a filmmaker who has already made ample use of the artist's right to occasional failures The film is based on the second and last novel of Henri Pierre Roche, whose first was the basis of Truf-faut's biggest success, Jules and Jim Roche turned to fiction in his 70s and originally told his hie story as the complicated love triangle of one woman and two men Then, in Deux Anglaises et le Continent, he felt emboldened to come nearer to the truth one man and two women I have read neither novel, but the two filmizations, speaking approximately, resemble each other as a glove does its mate turned inside out That, in itself, is bad I get a sense of Truffaut repeating himself here even more than in the weaker segments of his autobiographical films, the Antoine Domel series On closer inspection, Two English Girls also emerges as a rather unpleasant distortion of its predecessor For what in Jules and Jim had a certain quasi-improvisatory ebullience-the exhilarating unconstraint of a young filmmaker of genius finding himself m full command of his craft-now begins to look like a set of nicely tooled movable parts rearranged into a different contraption Inventiveness has become slickness, enthusiastic impetus, mere doggedness In both films, the narrative interest lies in curious permutations curiously arrived at and capriciously resolved But in the new work there is a sense of calculation-as if Truffaut, taking greater liberties with Roche's text than he did before, were trying to impress us deliberately and weightily with his perceptions of how erratic, irrational and totally unpredictable the human heart is Unfortunately, we know all that already Such a catalogue of quirks becomes interesting only if the approach is psychologically revelatory, cinematically innovative, or produced with such absolute expertise in all other departments as to make the film overcome its lack of plotting and characterization What Truffaut (more, I suppose, than Roche) did here is to parade the greatest number of improbable reversals before us, we are supposed to be so overwhelmed by what we did not expect as not to notice the shortcomings in what we have every right to expect We are asked to believe, indeed sympathize with, the bizarre involvements of a young, turn-of-the-century Frenchman with two English sisters at whose mother's house in Wales he spends a summer vacation Anne is a lively, outgoing girl, while the younger Muriel is broodingly introverted For some reason, Claude, who is not exactly the introspective type, picks the less pretty and likable Munel, whom Anne, herself infatuated with Claude, has destined for him-quirks number one and two Muriel insists she does not care for the youth, yet presently agrees to marry him-whim number three, a one-year waiting period is imposed by a conclave of parents, during which time the loving and saddened Claude goes back to Pans and promptly starts fornicating around-whim four Anne comes to study art in Paris and she and Claude arbitrarily decide to become lovers, then separate for no compelling reason-oddities five and six Claude, by now in love with Anne, pushes her toward other men whom she, though loving Claude, accepts-caprices seven and eight Muriel visits her sister in Pans, and startingly throws herself at Claude, who equally startubgly backs away-shocks number nine and ten On the eve of her wedding to another, Anne dies of some romantic ailment, whereas Muriel tortured by guilt about some childish bit ot quasi-lesbianism and subsequent indulgences in masturbation, appears in France again and makes passionate love to Claude-surprises 11, 12, 13, 14 The next day, she leaves to marry someone else and will never see Claude again twist number 15 Years later, the aging Claude wanders around the Luxembourg Gardens thinking that an English schoolgirl whom someone calls Muriel might be his lost love's daughter She isn't-surprise number 16, or no surprise number one depending on your point of view Along with these questionable reversals, we get a wealth of quaint details, but details that remain external unexplored actions, or voice-over narration by Truffaut that records events and data without much speculation, poetry, or incisive formulation The result is mechanistic and dehumanized Even if reality can be as odd as this, it is so at a slower pace, m this kind of acceleration, the entire film looks almost like that speeded-up orgy c tiois in Ku-bnck's Clockwork Orange a joke Yet it is clearly intended as an occasionally droll but fundamentally sad morality tale and it simply fails to convince The color cinematography is handsome, place and period are conscientiously recreated Truffaut constructs his scenes knowingly and endows them with his sense of rhythm All this is not enough, especially considering another great flaw, the casting ot Jean-Pierre Leaud as Claude The director has written, "In my opinion, Jean-Pierre Leaud is the best actor of his generation", in my own opinion, there never was a more fatal misjudgment Leaud's assets consist of a set ot stiff, repetitious movements, a breathy, toneless voice, a cocky, proletarian face that can occasion ally assume a hangdog expression, greedily beggarly but otherwise inexpressive eyes, the personality of a rather persistent mollusk As a boy, he was charmingly natural and authentically rebellious in The 400 Blows, but he grew up untalented and homely, like so many child actors before him Nevertheless, Truffaut has identified himself with this bumbling cipher, and there is no greater love than that of a great ego for his alter ego Leaud walks through the film, except when he sleepwalks through it, in the final scene, when he is supposed to be a greybeard, he is a high school student moonlighting as a Macy's Santa Claus Tracy Ten-deter and Kika Markham are fine as Muriel and Anne There are numerous leterences to previous Tiuf-taut films to delight auteurist critics Truffaut has drastically cut the film since its first Paris release, and there are some undeniably nice directorial touches scattered through out it But none of this mitigates the essential trashiness of a still seemingly unending chain of tergiversations About The Assassination of Trotskv, the less said, the better As directed by Joseph Losey, written by Nicholas Moseley, and enacted by its three stars at hysterical pitch, it seems the collective work of mental patients who, by way of therapy, have misguidedly taken up filmmaking instead of basket weaving The film has no new theory about the murder, which does not, however, prevent it from fantasizing rather freely Visually, it goes in for hammily posed tableaus, verbally, tor pretentious discontinuities that sound either inscrutable or banal, rhythmically, for periodic forward lurches that soon come to embarrassed halts One remains pretty much in the dark about events and motivations, but this is not nearly so bad as the fact that one is left not even wishing to understand The single unifying element here is that everyone acts weirdly, inconsistently, and as little as possible Losey has directed with his old heavy hand this time encased in an iron gauntlet He allows an image of Stalin to stare at the would-be assassin from the water on which his boat is gliding, ponderously, he intercuts the killing of Trotsky with a matador's expediting a bull in the arena Romy Schneider looks and carries on worse than ever, but is still far from the unattractive woman she is supposed to be As the assassin, Alain Delon does nothing but attitudinize sullenly, though given the zonked screenplay, it would be hard to do more As Trotskv Richard Burton glowers unfocusedly, and orates away with a kind ot absent-minded orotundity As Mrs Trot sky, Valentma Cortese, by virtue of sheer personal dignity, contributes the one appealing presence Bad Company was written by David Newman and Robert Benton and directed by the latter It is a Western with that sense of alienation and sporadicalness we find in new-wave genre films like Little Big Man, or the same team's Bonnie and Clyde Here it is Civil War time, a bunch of kids are trying to escape the draft and strike it rich out West Under the leadership of a rough-and-ready rogue, Jake Rumsey, they form a gang of roving juvenile delinquents that is joined by Drew Dixon, a young Southern gentleman and draft-dodger The film records the friendship and mutual double-crossings that unite Jake and Drew in a most comic love-hate relationship which, after many humorous and some grave mishaps, finally binds the youths together as a pair of happy bank robbers The film has moments that are zestful and wryly intelligent, and others that are merely self-indulgent or cute Once again, as in Bonnie and Clyde and There Was a Crooked Man, Benton and Newman can make killing either blunderingly farcical or shocking in its sudden, offhanded horror-whichever suits their immediate needs But what I find most reprehensible about the team is their modish and glib cynicism While sitting at Elaine's Restaurant or the Esquire offices ripping off the Establishment and safely staying within the law, they write (and now direct) films celebrating outlaws The good person is always a hypocrite until he becomes a full-fledged law breaker, criminality being identical with true humanity Not even attractive performances by Jeff Bridges as Jake, Barry Brown as Drew, and a number of others, enhanced by the flavorous color cinematography of Gordon Willis, are sufficient pallia-tives for this unappetizing Mad-Av flirtation with evil...

Vol. 55 • November 1972 • No. 22

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