On Screen

SIMON, JOHN

On Screen MISSES THROUGH MISDIRECTION BY JOHN SIMON Some films fail from sheer good intentions, which is the case of Andre Cayatte's To Die of Love. It is a partly fictionalized retelling of...

...They tried to live together, but the boy's fanatical family, abetted by antiquated laws, managed to have the youth locked up in an institution and Gabrielle in jail...
...With the same dishonesty liberals are all shown as phonies or cowards, and their laws as affording protection to homicidal maniacs...
...there is no sense of financial issues, of the inability to survive without a job, of the woman's need to do the kind of work she knew and loved...
...This, clearly, is an unsatisfactory state of affairs...
...If films like To Find a Man suffer from insufficient insight and point of view, a movie like Don Siegel's Dirty Harry has too much point of view, all bad...
...We seem to be back in the era of, say, Blue Denim and the sermons against abortion that advocate marriage, however problematic and impractical...
...among the horrors of supposedly enlightened abortion clinics and counseling services...
...Both the boy's superior intelligence and his initial self-involvement have to be taken, to a certain extent, on faith...
...The only thing that need detain us about this film is the violence, which, though it has aroused some protest, has fared much better than that in Straw Dogs...
...Oh, what a little uncontrolled rage and uncontrollable despair could have done for this picture...
...Instead, we are limited to a somewhat academic sympathy as we wonder why these people could not have waited a little longer, until the boy turned 18 and their problems, at least as stated here, were at an end...
...The fact that Pamela Sue Martin, who plays her, is coarse-featured and bovine does not help matters...
...whether the styliza-tion, if that is what it is, is artistically and morally justified...
...Done with greater insight, a finer sense of detail, and a more consistent point of view, this could have been a valuable little film...
...But these stages and the transitions between them are not clearly delineated...
...Written by two people with the inauspicious name of Fink, it is an argument in favor of "Law and Order" with enough holes in it to equip an oversize Swiss cheese...
...Andre Cayatte is a former lawyer, and most of his films concern themselves with forms of judicial injustice...
...Her Daniele is, of course, directed for maximal underplaying, but even under such enforced austerity she conveys a great feminine lovingness and a strength without edges to cut yourself on...
...She is one of those blessed actresses as incapable of making a false move as of making an excessive one...
...The he film's tone is wobbly throughout...
...Gabrielle was divorced, with two small children, when she fell in love with one of her 17-year-old students, a boy who looked old for his age as she looked young for hers, and who loved her manfully...
...at last, understanding her right to be just what she is, he can accept her without idealization or resentment...
...conversely, the girl's stupidity, grasping selfishness, arrogance, and self-pity are insisted on to the point where she seems suitable only for the heroine of an antifeminist tract...
...The question is simply whether or not the realism is genuine and purposeful...
...What saves To Die of Love from dying of mediocrity is the lovely, warm, intelligent presence and absolutely unmannered, uncluttered performance of Annie Girardot...
...in the end, with a few rotten breaks wearing her down even more, she gassed herself to death...
...They shuttled in and out of their confinement and each other's arms...
...The film tells of the efforts of Andy, a high school boy, to get an abortion for Rosalind, a girl of his own age...
...If To Die of Love simply oozes moral purpose, it is hard to determine what Buzz Kulik, the director, and Arnold Shulman, the scenarist, had in mind with To Find a Man...
...But the grimness continues to be undercut by comic set pieces, and the film ends on a note of ambiguity less thought-provoking than evasive...
...Gabrielle lost her job and could not get other teaching positions...
...Andy's disenthrallment could then have been existential, not merely accidental...
...Had she been permitted to do so, she could have, without relaxing her histrionic discipline, made us brim over with pity...
...The trouble with To Die of Love is that it makes the teacher and her young lover superhumanly attractive: too pure, too unremittingly compatible, too unswervingly noble...
...The film's politics matches its esthetics in doing violence to all??including violence...
...The result is a color film that is embarrassingly black-and-white...
...Very little comes of this...
...Rosalind can confide only in Andy, but implores his help peevishly and egotistically...
...The battle between the lovers and the family was long and complicated, exacerbated by the judicial backlash to the events of May 1968...
...To be disenchanted with such a creature is not a moving experience...
...Despite genuine moral indignation, the film is not allowed to rise above the level of a rather specialized case history...
...Now the climax of the film has Andy telling Rosalind that he first placed her too high on a pedestal, then, vindictively, too low...
...Daniele (as Gabrielle is called here) is the model mother of two perfect, blond storybook children...
...Cayatte goes so far as to make the boy, whom he calls Gerard, look and act older than any 17-year-old I have ever seen??unlike, for example, the more justly perceived hero of Devil in the Flesh, who is allowed some childish characteristics...
...Cayatte is capable of signal failures as well, and Mourir d'aimer (the French title sounds much better) is one...
...I also rather like the somewhat different but still profoundly moral Tomorrow Is My Turn...
...And the film is made of so many little scenes of roughly equal length and intensity that it looks as tidy as a game of dominoes laid out before us, each piece neatly dovetailing into the other...
...She did have a posthumous victory, though, as she had foreseen: The stink of the Russier affair brought about a liberalization of the French laws pertaining to the rights of minors...
...She is always beastly to Andy, except when she is disingenuously wheedling or merely stolid...
...Accordingly, we never get a sense of the friendship that must have originally united the kids, or of how and why Andy comes to love Rosalind...
...It begins as a would-be hilarious comedy about a pregnant girl in a Catholic school whom her chums are plying with grotesquely ineffectual nostrums...
...Probably the greatest lacuna, however, is the absence of that hysteria verging on madness that must have finally possessed this hounded, desperate woman, and that, far from making her less likable, would have made her more human, believable and worthy of compassion...
...Typically, Cayatte shifts the locale from Marseilles to Rouen, presumably because that is where Joan of Arc was burned alive...
...Violence is utterly brutal yet somehow fun...
...And so we face once again the old paradox: violence, like sex, raises the more objections the better it is done...
...It is a partly fictionalized retelling of the story of Gabrielle Russier, a young teacher of French and Classics in a Marseilles lycee...
...Meanwhile the rest of the worldó parents, educators, judges, lawyers, doctors??is almost without exception mean, narrowminded, unhinged, and brutal...
...Now the tone changes more drastically...
...After many considerable sacrifices, Andy gets Rosalind her abortion in time for her imminent winter vacation, without upsetting her various hairdresser's and orthodontist's appointments...
...We next get glimpses of potential social satire: comic maids and apothecaries, extravagant but unfulfilled parents...
...Nor do I think??and this is my point??that realism should be penalized just for being realistic...
...All handicaps considered, Darren O'Connor as the boy, and Lloyd Bridges as the girl's father turn in commendable performances...
...In Dirty Harry a raped and murdered body is a neat little sexual object, and orgies seen through windows are both reprehended and meant to turn you on...
...she and Gerard kiss occasionally and are even in bed together, but there is not a moment of true carnality, of palpable sexual passion...
...Neither do I consider naturalism the best or only acceptable style...
...Catholic and busty, she has become pregnant by a gigolo kept by her girl friend's mother...
...I am not saying, of course, that sex and violence must always be spelled out in realistic detail, rather than, for instance, be exaggerated into absurdity and presumable innocuousness...
...how much more melancholy the sobering up had Rosalind been allowed some everyday decencies, an occasional perception, a little surface charm...
...The kids are friends, and the brilliant, studious boy secretly adores the dumb, selfish, pretty Rosalind...
...but she remains cool and dignified even in defeat...
...It would have concentrated on the difference between a boy's vision of a beloved girl and the humdrum reality, the gradual awakening exuding a bittersweet, funny-poignant aroma...
...The general superficiality of characterization is intensified by such glaring inconsistency as when the Puerto Rican maid changes from a tough, self-righteous, faintly ludicrous figure into a supremely magnanimous, virtually quixotic benefactress...
...Two of them are distinguished, although perhaps not great, achievements: We Are All Murderers and Justice Is Done...
...The emphasis is all on thwarted love...
...Now Dirty Harry may be smeared with sadistically reveled-in gore, but it is also less credible, less real...
...We go back briefly to juvenile sex comedy, as Andy conducts pregnancy tests...
...We are in the adult sexual jungle...
...True, Daniele is allowed an admission of failure...
...It turns into a survey of various teenage attitudes toward sex, meant to be wrier and more abrasive, but actually routine and hackneyed...
...In the process, he conquers his own self-centeredness and comes to understand the girl's vapidity and self-seeking, as well as the crassness of the world...

Vol. 55 • March 1972 • No. 5


 
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