Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ticking Clock

Foreign language films don’t mean nearly as much to me now as they did during my college years. Back in the late Sixties, when we Baby Boomers were coming into our own, foreign films opened windows onto another world: a place more complex, more vibrant, and far more sensual than anything I knew at home.

The queen of art films in that era was probably Catherine Deneuve, whose cool blonde beauty seemed to mask a tortured soul. In Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, she played a virgin whose mental stability is eaten away by repressed carnal desire. Her role in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour turned her into a chic Parisian trophy wife who comes alive in moments of sexual degradation. So beautiful was she, and so powerful was this film, that a devout Mormon I know has been carrying around memories of Belle de Jour for the past forty years.

Back then, he was a young missionary in Japan. On a day off, he and an American buddy went to a local theatre to see Lady and the Tramp. When that Disney charmer faded out, the projectionist began screening Belle de Jour. (I can attest that the Japanese in that era came up with some pretty odd double-bills.) Though the Buñuel film was in French with Japanese subtitles, it was quickly obvious to the two Mormons that Belle de Jour was not in line with the teachings of their faith. My friend now admits, “I don’t think we were very far into that movie when we realized this was not something we probably should have been doing, but neither of us had the courage—or maybe the desire—to get up and walk out.” The experience taught him that Church elders were right to warn about the staying power of movies: Belle de Jour has remained fresh his mind from that day to this.

But for most of us, time doesn’t stand still. This is especially true of actors. I just saw Catherine Deneuve’s latest film, Potiche. Once again she plays a trophy wife, but this is a comedy (albeit a rather lame one) in which she turns the tables on her philandering husband. Despite the silliness of the goings-on, Deneuve is still beautiful, with a regal quality that transcends her material. I must admit she’s become a bit chubby, though at sixty-eight she’s certainly entitled to pack on a few pounds. (Who hasn’t?) Her love interest in the film is Gérard Depardieu, who may once have been swashbuckling but has now got so much swash that I’m not sure it’s buckle-able. Let’s be honest: he resembles the Michelin tire man with a Dutch-boy bob. It’s enough to make me really miss the films of the past, when the stars—and I—were a whole lot younger

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