Michel Deville

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domino harvey
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Michel Deville

#1 Post by domino harvey » Thu Mar 28, 2019 3:00 pm

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MICHEL DEVILLE (1931 - )

FILMOGRAPHY
Une balle dans le canon (1958) co-directed with Charles Gérard
Ce soir ou jamais (1961)
Adorable menteuse (1962)
À cause, à cause d'une femme (1963)
L'Appartement des filles (1963)
Les petites demoiselles (1964) short film for TV
Lucky Jo (1964)
On a volé la Joconde (1966) R2 Cest La Vie
Martin soldat (1966)
Zärtliche Haie / Tendres requins (1967)
Benjamin, ou Benjamin ou les Mémoires d'un puceau (1968)
Bye Bye Barbara (1969)
L'Ours et la poupée (1970) BEWARE the OOP R1 Koch Lorber, which is an academy black and white print of this widescreen color film
Raphaël ou le Débauché (1972)
La femme en bleu (1973) R1 Pathfinder (as the Woman in Blue)
Le mouton enragé (1974) R1 Pathfinder (as Love at the Top) / RB EDITION CINEMA FRANÇAIS (as Das Wilde Schaf)
L’Apprenti salaud (1977)
Le dossier 51 (1978)
Le voyage en douce (1980) R1 New Yorker
Eaux profondes (1981)
La petite bande (1983) R2 Gaumont (no subs needed, no dialog)
Les capricieux (1984)
Péril en la demeure (1985) RB Gaumont
Le Paltoquet (1986) R2 Cest La Vie
La Lectrice (1988)
Nuit d'été en ville (1990)
Contre l'oubli (1991) portmanteau film, sgmt. Pour Nguyen Chi Thien, Vietnam
Toutes peines confondues (1992)
Aux petits bonheurs (1994)
La divine poursuite (1997)
La maladie de Sachs (1999)
Un monde presque paisible (2002) R1 First Run (as Almost Peaceful)
Un fil à la patte (2005)

All home video releases listed are only for those titles with English subs. All films save Martin Soldat, Zärtliche Haie, Aux petits bonheurs, and La divine poursuite are circulating with English subs on back channels

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domino harvey
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Re: Michel Deville

#2 Post by domino harvey » Thu Mar 28, 2019 5:18 pm

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MICHEL DEVILLE IN THE 70S

I’m up through the 70s in my chronological viewings of Deville’s filmography and unbelievably, more than once during viewings covered by this writeup, I had the same giddy, unmatchable and often unpredictable high of watching a masterpiece… which started with L'Ours et la poupée (1970), a Bardot vehicle I had next to no faith in at the outset. But Deville gives us the purest distillation and mastery of the American screwball comedy (and not French farce) I can think of in this perfect comedy of mismatched couple Bardot and Jean-Pierre Cassel. Cassel is especially hilarious here as the mild-mannered musician widower who is completely uninterested in Bardot’s advances, which makes her pursue him even harder. My favorite moments in the film, which unfolds over one 24-hour period, are those featuring Cassel’s children, who live in a house right out of Wes Anderson— indeed, the set design carries over here the inclination Deville already showed in his previous film, Bye Bye Barbara, to spend an unusual amount of time constructing elaborately (and deliberately) designed set dressings. And the adults are so silly while the kids are so muted and clever in these passages that I’d say this is the perfect film for kids if only it didn’t have full frontal nudity from Bardot! Though, depending on your kid, it still may be a good choice! I can’t believe there’s no English friendly release of this (other than the OOP Koch Vision DVD that presented the color film in a black and white print— good lord), you might as well just give up on home media releasing if you can’t sell a movie this cleverly-made and starring two well-known French cinema icons. This would have topped my modern Screwball Comedies list had I seen it in time...

Nina Companeez, Deville’s collaborator on all his films up through and including Raphaël (1971), obviously deserves a lot of credit for shaping the form and feel of their films as co-screenwriter and, in later works, even doing the editing (and she wrote and performed the title song in Bye Bye Barbara!). So letting her take on sole writing duties for their last film together seems fitting, but unfortunately this is one of Deville’s most disappointing movies, a rather rote period piece about Maurice Ronet’s rogue falling for a good girl who demeans herself so he won’t feel guilty for bedding her, only to not realize her attraction for him was completely due to her virginal airs. Deville has a long throughline across his ouevre (so far, at least) of being drawn to ladies’ men and, frankly, bastards, so this is right in his wheelhouse, but Deville’s counterpart voice is solely missing here. I had no idea what a Companeez-free Deville film would look like, but La femme en bleu (1973) is in many ways a better direct variation on his previous film! Michel Piccoli, a man who can get any woman he wants, spots a woman dressed all in blue and obsesses over finding her again, even bringing his former lover Lea Massari into the search. It’s obvious even before it’s obvious that this woman is a representation of his own inadequacies, fears, and insecurities, and the search for her is in many ways a pursuit of his own death. But the film (to its credit) is too cheeky to take this seriously, and the final shot, recontextualizing a set design prop displayed throughout the film, is so stupidly perfect that I had to applaud, even though there was no audience but me to hear!

Le mouton enragé (1974) is the only other film from this decade to not feature Deville’s writing, and it shows, but this still exhibits a startlingly brutal and dark worldview not far removed from Deville’s usual outlook, even if the gags are a lot more tasteless than usual. I can see the appeal, especially since Jean-Louis Trintignant’s ascension from lowly bank clerk to key player in the affairs of the rich and powerful is fully in concordance with Deville’s own interests. How funny you find the film will depend on what you think of “jokes” so dark there’s barely a punchline, like how Trintignant tells his buddy Jean-Pierre Cassel about how he raped Jane Birkin, to which Cassel responds with irritation at his “false” claim by barking “It’s nearly impossible to rape a conscious and full-grown woman— you SEDUCED her!” But it works for me because the film has no aims at good taste, and its cynicism is pervasive and consistent throughout— to traverse the world of the rich and powerful, one must leave all morals behind, the film argues, and in the process it deglamorizes the chi-chi set without ever feeling moralistic.

I was sure after discovering Deville several years ago that I’d never see a better film from him than Ce soir ou jamais. Then a few weeks ago I was sure I’d never see a better film from him than L'Ours et la poupée. And now, unbelievably, I’m sure yet again, because L'Apprenti salaud (1977) [P] has to be his masterpiece, as it is one of the funniest, most brilliantly-directed comedies I’ve ever seen, ever, the end, period, full stop. Deville’s always best served by quick pacing, and he already showed his mastery of it in Adorable menteuse and L’Ours et la poupée, but here he taps into something else. By the end of this fairly short comedy I was exhausted like one gets tired after a day spent having fun at the amusement park. Robert Lamoureux is a mild-mannered fishing store employee who inherits a small amount of money and uses it to enact increasingly larger con schemes, initially solely to connect with comely young provincial worker Christine Dejoux. The film becomes a variation on Paper Moon, with the duo outsmarting dopes with wild abandon in order to exploit the greedy. Given that the film’s joys are primarily tied to its mise-en-scene and tone, there’s a limit to how much I can say versus what can be shown by watching how Deville times so much of the film to works of classical music, or how the film exhibits such flawless comic editing that it serves as an exemplar of the concept, or how Deville’s instincts on camera movement and blocking, already so good even in his early films, are without peer in the more manic moments of the film. Very rarely do I watch a film and think, “Wow, this is one of the best films I’ve ever seen,” but the thought came to mind here, and constantly.

I suspect even if we get the Deville reappreciation we desperately need in the English-speaking world, L'Apprenti salaud’s lack of marketable stars (here, at least) will cause it to be one of the last to be rescued, but ironically that same problem won’t be an issue for Le dossier 51 (1978), which has no stars but instead provides a very 70s conspiracy film in an unexpected and rather puckish fashion and was one of Deville’s biggest and most visible hits. The film purports to be a collection of secret intel briefings, hidden footage, and surveillance documents surrounding a potential political target, the subject 51 of the file name. This is a film all about form and style, though in a different fashion than Deville’s usual modes, and you can see the appeal of Deville getting to show off in a different fashion. Ultimately the film settles into a couple long set pieces filmed in POV ala Lady in the Lake and we get some more conventional character beats (of a sort) in the last act as it all comes together. An interesting experiment, and one sure to find an audience WOULD SOMEONE JUST FUCKING RELEASE HIS BEST FILMS COMMERCIALLY WITH ENGLISH SUBS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE

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Re: Michel Deville

#3 Post by roujin » Fri Mar 29, 2019 11:45 am

I don't know if you're aware (you probably are!), but just adding Dan Sallitt's small piece on Deville/Companéez.

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domino harvey
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Re: Michel Deville

#4 Post by domino harvey » Fri Mar 29, 2019 12:09 pm

I wasn’t, thanks for sharing! It’s an interesting read, but it’s both nice and a bit sad to see someone else banging the drum for more English-friendly Deville releases over a decade ago!

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Re: Michel Deville

#5 Post by soundchaser » Fri Mar 29, 2019 12:16 pm

domino, where did you find English subs for Ce Soir ou Jamais? I don't see them on the usual backchannels.

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Re: Michel Deville

#6 Post by domino harvey » Fri Mar 29, 2019 12:23 pm

Whoops, you’re right, I forgot that one’s not circulating at the usual place with subs. I have a hardsubbed copy

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Re: Michel Deville

#7 Post by BenoitRouilly » Fri Mar 29, 2019 1:05 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Thu Mar 28, 2019 5:18 pm
I suspect even if we get the Deville reappreciation we desperately need in the English-speaking world, L'Apprenti salaud’s lack of marketable stars (here, at least) will cause it to be one of the last to be rescued, but ironically that same problem won’t be an issue for Le dossier 51 (1978), which has no stars but instead provides a very 70s conspiracy film in an unexpected and rather puckish fashion and was one of Deville’s biggest and most visible hits. The film purports to be a collection of secret intel briefings, hidden footage, and surveillance documents surrounding a potential political target, the subject 51 of the file name. This is a film all about form and style, though in a different fashion than Deville’s usual modes, and you can see the appeal of Deville getting to show off in a different fashion. Ultimately the film settles into a couple long set pieces filmed in POV ala Lady in the Lake and we get some more conventional character beats (of a sort) in the last act as it all comes together. An interesting experiment, and one sure to find an audience WOULD SOMEONE JUST FUCKING RELEASE HIS BEST FILMS COMMERCIALLY WITH ENGLISH SUBS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE
Le Dossier 51 is really an outstanding film. Never seen such a narrative elsewhere. Maybe the most accurate portrayal of the boring spy job (at the ime at least, but most certainly still today): tailing, wait, gathering information, cross-examination, more wait, wild interpretation... (a bit like The Conversation, or Blow Up) And then based on suspicion, they elaborate a grand manipulative scheme to turn (or not) the spiee. (like The Game, or The Spanish Prisoner). However the narrative is nothing like these other films. It's like being in a sect.
Glad you liked it too. Highly recommended for those who look for the odd one out!

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Re: Michel Deville

#8 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Mar 30, 2019 12:29 pm

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L'Ours et la poupée (1970)

A delight from beginning to end. Deville throws so many screwball gags at the viewer that I kept thinking about the first time I saw Bringing Up Baby, still recovering from a laugh as I was prompted to laugh again. I haven’t seen any other Deville to compare this to, but his understanding of the visual space really adds to the humor and playful nature of this film. It felt like he was using everything at his disposal to create a zany mise en scène that elicits as many laughs from the - seemingly less conscious - relationship between a character and the space, as from the characters and their - seemingly more purposeful, but never forced- respective gags with one another. Deville makes it all feel so effortless, and this is helped tremendously by the two leads. Cassel is hilarious as he plays around in clumsy and silly terrain, while keeping it straight at the same time - not give the audience much insight into his motives for turning Bardot away, other than his eccentric nature, which only adds to the humor. Bardot, who I never took for a strong comedic actress, was the real surprise here. She manages to play up to par with the great screwball actresses in her dynamics with Cassel and I found myself enamored with her performance (the scenes where she fakes drunk, followed by the long-winded refusal to leave, were so jam-packed with witty humor and visual gags from her that I couldn’t believe this was Bardot at all). As Domino pointed out, Cassel’s children are the best part of the film, and although they get far less screen time after the first 15-20 minutes (where I probably laughed out loud the most, solely for their interactions with Cassel) they pop up at just the right moments to shake their heads at the adults from afar, in a passive, apathetic manner. Wes Anderson kids these are!

I was reminded a lot of Du Cote D'Orouët in the sheer playfulness and whimsical nature of this film that didn’t feel bogged down by time and space the way many American films, even screwball comedies, can feel at times. Thanks for the recommendation and I can’t wait for the inevitable next 70s French film to knock my socks off!
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Sat May 04, 2019 4:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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domino harvey
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Re: Michel Deville

#9 Post by domino harvey » Sat Mar 30, 2019 2:28 pm

Great appreciation, glad you enjoyed it! I think my favorite bit from Cassel is when Bardot tries to stop him from interacting with her party guests by introducing him as
SpoilerShow
Swedish
so Cassel just
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starts obnoxiously spouting Swedish 101 phrases to her friends, completely undermining her attempt!
Such a silly gag, but Cassel really sells it

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Re: Michel Deville

#10 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Mar 31, 2019 5:53 pm

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L'Apprenti salaud (1977)

Not even Domino’s cryptic description of this comedy could have prepared me for the ride I was taken on. The aggressive editing and lack of established roles early in the film left me completely helpless in my attempt to figure out what was going on. The experience was much different than L'Ours et la poupée, giving a dizzying effect far from the more comfortable tropes of the screwball comedy, but equally rewarding. After watching the first 20 minutes I realized that I had likely missed enough gags, plot points, etc. to warrant a ‘do-over’ and decided to restart it and surrender to the flow of the film. This was definitely the right call, as Deville packs such an abundance of comedic moments, from visual gags to rapid-fire, seemingly nonsensical verbal quips, filling each scene (sometimes as short as seconds) that if you blink, you’ll miss them. Much like Moonrise Kingdom and Playtime, I could probably watch this 100 times and still catch something new on the 101st viewing, though in this case moreso due to the speedy pacing of the cuts and jokes than crowding visual space - a talent Deville also possesses and uses to his advantage here when appropriate! If I wanted to be derivative I’d call this Zazie dans le Métro with “adults,” though Deville is using his toolbox of film knowledge and skills too uniquely to dub this an emulation of the earlier Malle masterpiece.

It took me a little while to get accustomed to Robert Lamoureux’s eccentric character, and found the experience of acclimating to his unpredictability simultaneously jarring and thrilling. After roughly the half-hour mark I was familiar enough with his idiosyncrasies to settle into the film more comfortably, though the lack of cohesion in character and action is part of what drives this film’s charms in the first part. This is definitely one I see growing on me in new ways upon repeat viewings, but I envy anyone watching for the first time.

I love films about children, and this was one of the better films about adults accessing their inner child via anarchistic absurdity that I’ve ever seen. I can’t decide if I prefer this to L'Ours et la poupée, though they’re different enough in the way they play at the senses that I don’t have to. I look forward to checking out more of what Deville has to offer, for his range of his skills within the broad genre of comedy couldn’t be more apparent from these two samples alone.
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Sat May 04, 2019 4:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Michel Deville

#11 Post by domino harvey » Sun Mar 31, 2019 6:25 pm

And yet more great thoughts! I think the beginning is so disorienting because Deville gives us no traditional indicators of what kind of movie this is. So when Lameroux starts his initial scheme, it doesn’t automatically register that we’re watching a con artist movie because it’s been framed more by his attraction to Dejoux and we think perhaps he’s just continuing to pretend to be a geneologist to impress her rather than for financial gain (and why not both, the film eventually argues). Also, this movie is so exhaustively paced that it does take a little while to acclimate to Deville’s speed as a viewer (and then somehow Deville proceeds to move everything along even quicker as it goes along!)

My favorite unacknowledged running gag of the film is
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Deville vet Georges Wilson popping up throughout the film as different characters for no discernible reason. And I just learned via Google that he’s Lambert Wilson’s dad!

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Re: Michel Deville

#12 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Apr 03, 2019 6:57 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Sun Mar 31, 2019 6:25 pm
Also, this movie is so exhaustively paced that it does take a little while to acclimate to Deville’s speed as a viewer (and then somehow Deville proceeds to move everything along even quicker as it goes along!)

My favorite unacknowledged running gag of the film is
SpoilerShow
Deville vet Georges Wilson popping up throughout the film as different characters for no discernible reason. And I just learned via Google that he’s Lambert Wilson’s dad!
Exactly! To add to this, I think part of what makes this film work so well is that by the time the viewer does adjust to the speed and tone of the film, and is finally able to focus on the details of the cons, Deville finds new ways to disrupt the viewer's comfortability - partly by moving things forward at a quicker pace, but also by further diffusing the motives of the characters simultaneously:
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The roles reverse as Dejoux is the one who begins to initiate romantic advances - if that's even what they are? - and Lameroux's attitude towards these advances becomes increasingly apathetic and focused towards... what? His con, that he also seems to be losing interest in?; Lameroux pushing the final scheme 'unnecessarily' further and further until he is caught, and then digs himself further into the hole by admitting to everything!
Of course, at this point we know that the characters are not "logical" (who or what in this film is?) so I suppose these don't come as a surprise, but I still took them as Deville emptying his toolbox of ideas to attempt to shake up and disorient the viewer with everything he's got (along with that great recurring gag in domino's spoiler box). Deville's awareness of his audience and timing when and how they'll adjust to the eccentricities of his film to implement new tricks at just the right times is just as impressive as the imagination that created the gags themselves!

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Re: Michel Deville

#13 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Apr 06, 2019 1:55 am

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Ce soir ou jamais (1961)

It’s striking how Deville's understanding of space and camera movement was so matured from the very start. Going into this, I was not expecting this skill to be so fully developed by his second feature, and having seen two of his later works it was exciting to see how Deville plays with technique here that he would later manipulate in new and exciting ways. That's not to say that this is amateurish in comparison to the later films I've seen, simply different, and further proves the range this director has in altering his style between films, and within a given film, to keep the audience from any possibility of boredom. It seems apparent that Deville is so deeply in touch with his audience because he becomes his audience, and pushes the creative boundaries with the medium to keep himself entertained and away from the dangers of complacency as well. As a result, we get films like this, which is so full with all the possibilities of cinema that it becomes alive. While Françoise Dorléac's scene is absolutely as thrilling as promised, the highlight for me was
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Anna Karina's dance at the two-thirds mark of the film.
The way Deville keeps the camera in constant motion, coupled with abrupt cuts to close-ups, and then back to the action (from unexpected angles, for inconsistent durations of time, etc.) seemingly breaks all the rules of film whilst creating them - reminding me of Breathless in the extend to which technique can evoke emotion and shock simultaneously.

What I was less prepared to notice (but should have been!) in this viewing was the extent to which Deville understands people. Although his characters can be silly and playful in this film, they are also more grounded and authentic depictions of human beings, on the surface, compared to the ones in L'Ours et la poupée and L'Apprenti salaud. Deville's comprehension of the interpersonal skills of his generation allows him to appropriately exaggerate social dynamics in small ways at times without ever feeling invalidating or inauthentic to these people. Given Deville's drive to constantly find new ways to express his realm of interests, it's fitting that over time he would morph his understanding of, and interest in, social dynamics into the characters we see in L'Ours et la poupée and L'Apprenti salaud. In the former, we have classic screwball caricatures, but also a more striking depiction of self-focused people suppressing or aggressing their desires in relation to the other (I'm aware that this could describe the classic screwball relationship, but the degree to which these traits are established prior to the main characters meeting exemplifies that these passive and aggressive qualities are inherent to the characters in their general relations with others- and thus a sobering reality to their own social defects, not spawned or necessarily amplified by the specific dynamic, which seems more typical of the 'screwball comedy').

In L'Apprenti salaud, we get a completely unstable experience of getting to know a seemingly unstable character, by following his actions via omission of any information that could serve as a foundation for understanding his essence. Domino mentioned that he read Robert Lamoureux's initial actions as pursuant of Christine Dejoux's love interest, but this never settled in for me due to how erratic he behaves from one scene to the next. Eventually as the film goes, on the dynamic between Dejoux and Lamoureux shifts
SpoilerShow
to apathy and an inability to connect on Lamoureux's part, especially in their final voyage in the car towards the end. This actually struck me as a moment of extreme sadness, albeit in a subtle way that doesn't take the viewer out of the mood completely, but has occupied my thoughts over the last week and feels more emotionally piercing the more I reflect on it. Regardless of whether Deville had the intention to be melancholic or not, the brief moments where he slows down this rollercoaster of a film emphasize these shifting relationship dynamics and aimless, pointless nature of Robert Lamoureux's schemes (and not in the glorified meaninglessness bound to the idea of freedom that precedes this moment for the film). This is enough to make us realize that Deville, Dejoux, and Lamoureux are all acutely aware of Lamoureux's instability and inability to access everything he wants in life through his anarchistic actions. Perhaps his 'ridiculousness' does not actually indicate the freedom we felt when riding at such a breathless pace, but may be a facade - a defense mechanism of the anarchist, masked as freedom to divert his attention from the need to confront his lack of confidence in his abilities: to communicate with the woman he wants, fit into society, or generally set and follow through on goals that involve interpersonal relations involving genuine, normative social skills.
I don't necessarily think Deville's intention is to get his audience to dig into a dense, psychological subtext. But his characters are certainly drawn to be far more complex than they appear, all the way back to Ce soir ou jamais, where he already starts to expose the sadness of the meaning/meaninglessness of the social experience (I'm reminded of Sartre's No Exit: "Hell is other people"). That Deville can do this in small doses sparingly, all within a larger milieu that conversely encourages the romanticization of said meaninglessness, as expressed by individual and social difficulties, as sheer fun - for isn't this cinema? - establishes his willingness to take on the complicated task of attempting to make the viewer comfortable with the duality of seemingly mutually exclusive ideas, emotions, and technique, foreign to the ways we normally revert to think and feel, but true to the absurdity of life - and he succeeds.
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Sat May 04, 2019 4:25 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Michel Deville

#14 Post by domino harvey » Sat Apr 06, 2019 8:47 am

Interesting thoughts as always! Ce soir ou jamais is probably best considered in the context of what it thankfully is not, namely a Philippe de Broca film. De Broca beat (solo) Deville to the screen in 1960 with his pair of manic comedies, Le farceur and Les jeux de l'amour, and I am proud to say I shared the same thought with Jean Douchet before I even read it in his write-up for Cahiers of Ce soir ou jamais when he wrote "Thanks to Michel Deville, we no longer need Philippe de Broca" (which is doubly bitter considering de Broca was a friend of Cahiers and worked with several of the Young Turks on their early films). But these films (which also star Jean-Piere Cassel, who will join the Deville fold in the next decade) give a strong Goofus to Deville's Gallant, and are strong evidence that quickly paced and relayed comic films of this nature are hard to pull off successfully.

It’s prob worth talking a bit more about Deville’s work around this time. Much of Deville's filmography is built on recognition and tweaking of a star's accepted persona (like casting Catherine Rouvel from Renoir's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe in Benjamin to draw a line for viewers between the two), and while he merely takes Karina's existent kittenishness to its logical extreme in Ce soir, this isn't perhaps the best example of his efforts in this arena. Likewise, casting Marina Vlady as someone everyone wants to fuck in Adorable menteuse is hardly a stretch, though it’s a great film and one of several in Deville’s filmography that would be a default New Wave standard product had we been able to see it. Something like À cause, à cause d'une femme is far more interesting for how it tweaks Jacques Charrier's lothario rep from Les dragueurs and Les tricheurs into a more caustic study of the effects, detriments, and benefits of being a promiscuous man (and as I've said, while this is a well Deville returns to constantly for different means, this is his most complex and unexpected treatment of the topic, though Adorable menteuse gender-flipping the notion could perhaps also make that claim). And of course he then followed that up with a film with Bardot’s other famous lover, Sami Frey, in the broad comedy of L'Appartement des filles, so perhaps his eventual usage of Bardot in L’Ours was inevitable! L'Appartement is more concerned with generating a freewheeling and La ronde-ish romantic focus that pinballs from woman to woman in a positive inversion of the criticisms of À cause, but it does contain an utterly delightful lengthy interlude in which the denizens of said apartment put on a show for Frey that would 100% be considered a hallmark of French New Wave playfulness on the scale of Karina, Frey, and Claude Brasseur doing the Madison, had it ever enjoyed an English-friendly commercial home video release. The film also contains a tweak on spoken opening credits (in the spirit of Le mepris and the Magnficent Ambersons) that is simultaneously so intuitive and clever and yet glaringly obvious that you wonder how in the world no one else came up with it first. And, as a side note, I own a 5+ feet tall original poster for the film:

Image

Moving forward, Lucky Jo is so much better than any Eddie Constantine crime comedy has a right to be because again Deville tweaks our expectations-- it is on the (very) short list of movies in which a scene of a character acting "gay" has any actual positive interest because of how strongly it consciously undermines Constantine's typical screen persona (and how it stands in comparison to the more perceptive treatment of homosexuality in one of his notable later works). He’s also not infallible: On a volé la Joconde is just a bad, bad “caper” movie indistinguishable from other international co-productions of the era, though I saw it before I knew Deville was an auteur worth closer study, so it is due a reconsideration one of these days… but I doubt I’ll upgrade it much on revisit. Also unlikely to be rated upwards is Deville’s first film, the co-direction of Une balle dans le canon, which is actually not a bad little noir, one of those variations about dumb characters who think they’re smart and just fuck everything up, but I much prefer Deville’s unusual treatment of the noir plot skeleton in Bye Bye Barbara. Barbara, like all of his films that I’ve seen, contains the aspect you rightly identify at the tail-end of your writeup: the sense of playfulness, of having fun in the possibilities of cinema. So let me say it in bold and red and 200 pt font: Deville’s almost total erasure from discussion and English-friendly home media availability is a literal crime against French film legacy.

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Re: Michel Deville

#15 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Apr 24, 2019 9:01 pm

I went back to the beginning and watched Deville’s first (co-directed) feature Une balle dans le canon (1958), a solid debut with a predictable noir story and characters, but still entertaining throughout. This is almost solely due to Deville’s imaginative use of camera tricks. He seems to be trying everything here, playing with camera position, movement, blocking, and use of space like a kid playing with a new toy for the first time, absolutely in love with it, and we get to see this new love at work. Even Ce Soir ou Jamais feels restricted by comparison, because it actually follows some sense of rules and logic in form, something keeping the film 'grounded' while remaining playful and free within that logic.
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There's a shot at the beginning of Une balle where two characters are talking in a car outside an apartment complex, wondering aloud what the person inside the apartment is doing. As they look up, the camera abruptly pans upwards towards the sky and continues its dizzying vertical somersault until it stops at a table inside said apartment, in what is one of the most bizarre, unexpected, and exhilarating editing choices of a French New Wave film I've seen, which is saying something!
It's interesting to see Deville so divorced from interest in his characters and story, as his follow up Ce Soir ou Jamais struck a perfect balance between technique and thematic purpose. Still I was able to surrender to his contentment in playing with his weightless camera unbound by rules or consistency, which surprisingly doesn’t result in an uneven impression, but made me care far more about a film with otherwise unoriginal conventions. He’s throwing all he can at the wall to see what sticks, and most of it does because his work feels so free and full of life. It's also interesting that this came out in ‘58 and yet Deville is playing with inconsistent style differentiation in a similarly schizophrenic fashion - though using different techniques- as the more popular New Wave artists starting at around the same time. I had a silly thought while watching this that perhaps Godard saw it, was inspired by the audacity of the experimentation, and decided to join the revolution of cinema to different extremes in response by creating Breathless. Naturally what we know about Godard and the production of that film lends itself to other factors and motivations creating his style, but that fantasy was rooted in something real: that Deville and Godard belong to the same club of French New Wave auteurs, and deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.

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Re: Michel Deville

#16 Post by domino harvey » Thu Apr 25, 2019 11:52 am

I don't know of any record of Godard weighing in one way or the other on Deville, though he obviously saw at least one of his films since Anna Karina filmed it early on in her relationship with Godard. Neupert mentions Deville as a figure worth studying once his films are made available in the first edition of his New Wave study, but this is dropped from the second edition. Other than Douchet giving the man his due in his huge French New Wave coffee table book, no modern sources cite Deville-- but this isn't news or a meaningful metric, since as I've already mentioned several times, most of the directors once considered part of the Nouvelle Vague have been left by the wayside in favor of only the Young Turks and the Left Bank directors, which is a woefully incomplete and inaccurate summation of the actual movement

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Re: Michel Deville

#17 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Apr 28, 2019 2:58 pm

In my attempts to scour the Internet for sources on Deville, I came across unsupported rumors that the Cahiers du Cinéma didn’t like him, though this could be simply hearsay. I did find a somewhat interesting piece from last year (most of which is translatable from French) outlining much of what’s already been talked about in this thread, though it’s always nice to hear how the man worked from those closest to him: http://www.cinematheque.fr/article/1283.html

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Re: Michel Deville

#18 Post by domino harvey » Sun Apr 28, 2019 3:18 pm

You are right to question that, because as is often the case when someone talks about Cahiers (on the internet or otherwise) without actually looking at the journal, it's not true. Here's the Conseil des dix excerpts for his first two solo features. Note that these are arranged by order of overall score with the most well-liked on top. See how Adorable menteuse, while not a runaway hit with the journal's contributors, still merited the top spot that month (which gives you an idea of how free the contributors were with handing out bad scores). I also included a few spots below Ce soir ou jamais to show that the film was actually more broadly liked than the better-known / more "popular" Melville and Godard films (and the latter of course nevertheless ended up in second place on their collective year-end list!). Note that as in all months, however, not all of the invitees to the Conseil were necessarily on staff with Cahiers. Douchet also wrote an effusive review for Cahiers of Ce soir ou jamais that I've already quoted from... maybe I'll post a translation at some point.

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PS Au prix de sa vie is Dorogoy tsenoy, if anyone's trying to figure that one out

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Re: Michel Deville

#19 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Apr 28, 2019 3:47 pm

Interesting, thanks for sharing! I would also love to read that Douchet review if you feel like going through the process of translating.

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Re: Michel Deville

#20 Post by domino harvey » Sun Apr 28, 2019 8:34 pm

I forgot Douchet actually provided a translated version in his New Wave book, so I can luckily sit this one out

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Re: Michel Deville

#21 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Apr 29, 2019 1:16 am

I spent the weekend finishing off Deville’s ‘60s features (that I have access to). Here are some incredibly lengthy thoughts:

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Adorable menteuse (1962)

A large amount of genre and mood shifting is crammed into this undefinable gem, in addition to Deville’s already established knack for experimentation with technical style. What begins as an incredibly funny, endearing story of two sisters engaging in quick, witty banter, preceding a similar dynamic in Brigitte et Brigitte, slows down to create liberal levels of narrative space for characters to simply meander and be silly at a picnic for a while in its middle section, much like Rozier, Rivette, and Eustache would master in the early 70s. Deville then takes a sharp left turn, dipping into the spy thriller briefly before switching gears again to a straight romantic arc. Though even amongst these more dramatic moments the film keeps its breezy light-hearted vibe, with enough gags spliced in to give it a playful touch - often via abrupt New Wave cuts, my favorites being
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Sophie riding on a swing and exclaiming: “That’s so hard-boiled!” immediately after a long scene of Juliette attempting to seduce the man she loves in an Old Hollywood femme fatale fashion. Also, the deadly serious response of the waitress to Juliette’s order when she’s trying to covertly tail her man: “That’s impossible..” followed by Juliette gasping, afraid her cover has been blown, before the waitress finishes, “This is a vegetarian restaurant.”
Peppering such humorous Brechtian moments in the midst of the final act saves a full tilt into melodrama and showcases how Deville refuses to pin himself down to anything, be it genre, style, or plot conventions. Even the narrative moves around from focusing on Sophie in the first part - with Juliette as the playful comic relief- to completely flipping over to Juliette as front and center and Sophie taking on the same supporting role. While I wouldn’t label it a flaw, I don’t know what to make of how the film ends- I expected Deville to move away from the drama to focus back on the two sisters together, returning to a toned-down mood for the finale. Another viewing would probably be valuable to trace the narrative from the beginning, especially with the knowledge of where it all ends. This certainly felt like the first clear example of Deville’s erratic filmmaking applied to narrative structure that he would demonstrate with more confidence by the 70s, particularly in L'Apprenti salaud.

À cause, à cause d'une femme (1963)

Here we get an interesting character study and broader meditation on the consequences of selfish behavior, both on the individual and the others one affects in respective relationships, simultaneously coupling as a comedy-mystery. Deville utilizes a spectrum of scenes from incredibly realistic uncomfortable long takes of seduction-manipulation to light-hearted whimsical romantic encounters to completely surreal situations in order to depict his variety of desired moods.
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The early scene in the woods that kicks off the plot was a confusing and terrifying Kafka-esque nightmare, that became all the more frightening when it turned out to be real. Despite the heavy-handed seriousness of the situation, Deville still has room for sight gags (the shot of four separate policeman looking for Charrier in a chase sequence, rapidly edited over one another with the same background, was an unexpectedly comic breath of fresh air).
This was a departure from what I’d come to expect from Deville, and more evidence of his keen understanding and interest in the human psyche and social dynamics, as well as a step into darker terrain. Domino referred to this as Deville’s most “complex and unexpected” treatment of a recurring theme of the consequences of male promiscuity- and I would stretch that further in this case to a more comprehensive portrait of toxic masculinity. While I’ve only begun to go through his filmography, it’s difficult to imagine Deville taking a deeper stab at this when he’s got so many other interests to explore. I liked this quite a bit, and while I prefer Deville a bit more off the rails it’s nice to see him try something new again, this time by focusing in on one idea and going all in, still a bit playful with mood but restricted enough to allow for a looming intensity of introspection that bites.

L'Appartement des filles (1963)

An absolutely charming little film that made me feel pure joy. Maybe I’ll write more about this one day, but for now all I can say is I was completely taken by this, entranced with a smile on my face from start to finish. This would probably also be the one I’d recommend people start on Deville with, perhaps more than Ce soir ou jamais, for we get such a well-rounded balance of his talents on display here, a highly accessible narrative, and non-stop fun (which, while I wouldn’t go so far as to call “rare,” certainly isn’t the norm for Deville to let us dive in and stay afloat with ease in his films- he usually creates a few waves in some form!)- an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys the more well-known films the French New Wave.

Lucky Jo (1964)

Eddie Constantine shines in this comedy-noir crime caper. Blending a comic performance interchangeably with his tough guy persona works, and Deville does the same from the director’s chair- editing together sequences with repetitive comic gags (the “getting out of prison” montage) and then taking the time to stage robbery and fight sequences that could exist out of a different, more straightforward genre entry. Another example of Deville refusing to, and thus exploiting the fallacy that playing with genre isn’t appropriate in certain contexts by going to the extreme and succeeding in creating one of the better and most unique examples of the French crime film of the 50s and 60s.

Benjamin, ou Benjamin ou les Mémoires d'un puceau (1968)

Another example that lends itself to domino’s point of Deville taking on the analysis of the promiscuous male, kept (mostly) on the light side this time. Here we get a period piece that retains much of the gaiety of his earlier films, and introduces more of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them idiosyncratic mannerisms by his actors that Deville has already been playing with a bit and would dump on the viewer in full force in just a couple of years with L'Ours et la poupée. While he’s always had a knack for working outside the box with his actors, one can see a trend slowly moving from interests in technical form and mood towards more focus on the experimental placement of actors and exploration of their respective comic and dramatic ranges. This has always been an interest of Deville’s and it’s a pleasure watching his skills develop over time into a more self-assured director of actors, able to bring out abilities unlikely known to the actors themselves, and spending more time letting these characters breathe on screen. I didn’t love this film comparatively against the rest of his 60s output, but it’s an important step in Deville’s development as an auteur and an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes. [Note: I haven’t been able to see the several films between Lucky Jo and this, so it’s possible that this isn’t as drastic a change for Deville in this area- for all I know my blind spots could be even better examples of these impressions!]

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Bye Bye Barbara (1969)

Deville decides to go back to the neo-noir genre again, but this time instead of playing with genre, Deville sticks to the neo-noir conventions and keeps everything within loose enough to make this anything but conventional- upending our expectations and breathing new life into each scene. I know it’s been beaten to death in this thread, but Deville is just so PLAYFUL with everything the medium offers that his films are continuously exciting and vibrant, and when he’s at his best we get something like this that redefines the possibilities of cinema, creating a movie completely unlike I’ve ever seen- like a familiar reflection in a funhouse mirror. Everything that Deville does so right in L'Ours et la poupée within the “skeleton” (as domino aptly put it) of the screwball comedy, he does here within the skeleton of the neo-noir, and while I prefer the former (appropriately, the next film he would make!) this may be my favorite Deville of the 60s, and a new favorite film to add to my all-time shortlist.
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Wed Dec 04, 2019 5:39 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Michel Deville

#22 Post by domino harvey » Mon Apr 29, 2019 1:46 am

Some label needs to now not only release all these languishing Devilles but also enlist therewillbeblus to contribute essays

L'Appartement des filles is indeed lots of light fun, but a sad note is the early death of one of the three central filles, Renate Ewert, who died three years after the film was released from heart failure, likely caused by her anorexia. As if that wasn't bad enough, her death caused her parents to subsequently kill themselves a few months afterwards. Grim stuff!

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Re: Michel Deville

#23 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Apr 30, 2019 12:08 am

Absolutely brutal. Speaking of actors, I find it odd that Deville rarely works with an actor more than once (there are certainly exceptions in Piccoli, Cassel, et al.) since he’s such a ‘director of actors’ and those he’s worked with in the few interviews I’ve read speak highly of him. I’m assuming he kept a pretty tight crew (?), but for someone who seems to evoke the freedom of the art, you’d think he’d establish a company or work with an actor over time to help them bring out even more potential.

Also, regarding Bye Bye Barbara:
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That has to be one of the strangest, melancholic, and surprising endings, due to a mixture of psychedelic tone and style as well as content. I loved it but also feel like I missed something considering there seems to be no “reason” for Paula to leave, other than The Graduate-ish emotional dissonance and apathy. I’d be interested to hear thoughts on it. Oh, and how about that Five Easy Pieces ending a year before that film’s release? I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but that’s some coincidence!

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Re: Michel Deville

#24 Post by domino harvey » Tue Apr 30, 2019 11:44 am

Of the ones I’ve seen or are familiar with, in addition to Cassel and Piccoli there’s repeat appearances by: Anna Karina, Marina Vlady, Françoise Dorléac, Macha Meril, Mylène Demongeot, and of course Georges Wilson. But you’re right, none of these could really be considered as rep players or performers associated with either the director or the film/role in any meaningful mythic way. Given his interests in finding new ways to revisit many of his filmic preoccupations, perhaps Deville was just not all that interested in working with the same on-screen talent too often? He worked with just about every big active French actor/actress in his career, so I don’t think it was a matter of him not being able to get who he wanted

As an absolutely random aside, Googling Meril revealed that she was Michel Legrand’s widow, which is less surprising than learning they were only just married in 2014!

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Re: Michel Deville

#25 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Apr 30, 2019 9:07 pm

Haha that’s great- I love all those French connections (ugh, sorry). That does make sense and I suppose if we knew more about the man himself, one would have better insight into how he worked and what he was looking for. I certainly considered your point that for someone who was constantly trying to explore new terrain, perhaps exploring new actors with different abilities was part of that interest? Maybe he was afraid he would get bored with a muse or company? Hopefully one day we get more information on what made him tick!

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