Princess Mononoke, Touchez Pas au Grisbi

Two movies this weekend…

With the kids, Miyazaki’s The Princess Mononoke, which I’d always remembered as his best.  We’d held off for several years on showing it to the girls, making do with My Neighbor Totoro, Koko’s Delivery Service, Ponyo in the theater last year, and, more recently, Spirited Away, the latter of which is closer in spirit to Mononoke.  I actually think Mononoke was after all pretty heavy for young 7-year-olds… it’s an intense movie with a lot of violence, horror, sorrow and rage.  James Cameron ripped it off so heavily for Avatar, Miyazaki should get a tiny cut of the profits (enough to fund several of his movies, probably).  And actually, in practice I felt about it somewhat as I did about Avatar, that the long final Lord of the Rings-esque battle for the soul of nature becomes somewhat enervating, a bit too much.  The first 3/4, though, is sheer brilliance, an amazing, mind-bending, moving merging of Disney animation, Japanese manga, Tolkein, Japanese myth, in the service of pondering modernity’s costs and the possibilities of living in a non-exploitative relationship to nature.  In this world gods and demons are real, often impossible to tell apart, and must be fought, killed, prayed to, thanked and blessed, sometimes in succession.

C&I’s favorite part were the little ghostly forest creatures, I forget what they’re called, the evanescent white specters whose faces spin around like dials or children’s toy rattles.

Touchez Pas au Grisbi.  (a.k.a. something like “Don’t Touch the Loot.”)  This 1954 French noir, a come-back for the at-the-time washed-up Jean Gabin, & one of the early movies of the lovely Jeanne Moreau (she’s the brunette above).  This is really great… obviously heavily influenced by American gangster movies, but v. French with wonderful cinematography capturing shadowy early 1950’s Paris.  Gabin plays an aging gangster Max who has made what he hopes is the final big score — 20 pounds of gold from the Orly airport, we never learn much more about the heist — which will now allow him to retire.  My favorite scene is the one where Max brings his somewhat hapless buddy Riton, whom he calls Porcupine Head, to his secret apartment to hide out for a night (some goons are after him).  Max lays out the bedding, fluffs the pillow, gives Riton a pair of neatly folded p.j.s, but only after sitting down for some white wine and biscuits with pate.  It’s so charmingly French… they take the meal very seriously.  (There’s a lot of talk about food; Max explains at one point that if he and Riton stick around for their girlfriends’ burlesque show, they’ll have to stay up past midnight, and then take the girls out for onion soup and then sex — he’s way too sleepy for any of this.)  When Max brings out the p.j.s, I half-expected him to toss Riton a teddy bear too: it’s a very cozy little hideout. The bond between Max and Riton goes far deeper than any erotic link between the gangsters and the flighty molls; the dames are always enjoining them to stay up too late and run around town for onion soup, when they’d much rather be making a snack alone together in their p.j.s…

Best bit from the DVD extras: the guy who plays one of the young gangster associates of Max and Riton explains that he was filming Grisbi outside Paris at night and some other movie during the daytime, I forget where, but he had to take a flight back and forth.  The director pointed out to him that there was no way he could keep up this schedule for 10 days, but he responded that he was already in the scene, what else could they do?  So they added in a scene where inexplicably, Max stops the car and pushes him out to the side of the road, whereupon he kicks the dirt angrily.  The actor points out that there was absolutely no point to or explanation for this, it was just an expedient to get him out of the scene so he could get some sleep.

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