Foreign Film

Film Review: Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé)

“Peut-on vivre d’un souvenir?” (“Can we live on a memory?”)

Last month I began a subscription to the streaming service MUBI. I wish I had done it sooner. MUBI, which was founded in 2007, offers an ever-changing collection of selected films from around the world, introducing one new film every day. MUBI also produces and theatrically distributes films by emerging and established filmmakers. This is the third review I have written since subscribing. Recently, I had the absolute joy to watch the 1968 French Film, Wall Engravings.

Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé is the French title) was written and directed by Guy Gilles and tells the story of Jeanne, a young woman reflecting on her relationship with Jean. Jeanne loves Jean deeply, but he only thinks of leaving as he can never truly embrace happiness (the film succinctly explores the couple’s respective psychologies). One day, he leaves and then dies. Jeanne will never know the truth because her father is keeping it a secret because he is worried about her state of mind. In Jean’s absence, she remembers him and confides in her friend Pierre, detailing their stay in Provence. She asks, “Can we live on a memory?” In this film, love is interrupted by departure (death) and explored from an obsessive untangling of the past. The past that is explored is brief and slowly becoming opaque for Jeanne.

The film’s direction and cinematography are nothing short of breathtaking. The scenes shot in black and white are in the present while those in color narrate moments from the past. It embraces still photography and reminds me of a time when we able to contemplate actors and scenery without constant cutting and excessive movement of the camera.

I also want to applaud Macha Méril’s brilliantly understated and restrained performance as Jeanne: she truly comes across as someone deeply hurt trying to keep it together. I found myself later wondering if Jeanne would ever find out about Jean’s death and how she may have reacted to it. I even wondered who Jeanne, an artist, would have become and who she might be in 2022. Did the loss of Jean foster her art? Death, in a way, is an act of living in art (and cinema).

If you have ever had a short, but passionate, love affair that you never got over, you will not want to miss this film.

The cast of Julieta.

Film Review: Almodóvar’s “Julieta”

Julieta is Pedro Almodóvar’s twentieth film and joins the pantheon of his best works. It was inspired by three short stories from the book by Alice Munro, Runaway, as well as the female-centric films of the 1940’s with hints of Hitchcock as well as Almodóvar’s own earlier works, most notably, his masterpiece, All About My Mother. One might even consider Julieta to be the 21st century All About My Mother.

The film traces three decades of the title character’s life. It starts with a middle-aged Julieta living in Madrid, with her boyfriend Lorenzo, and they are planning to move to Portugal. One day she runs into Bea, former best friend of her daughter Antia, who reveals that Antia, whom Julieta has not seen or spoken with in twelve years, is living in Switzerland and is married with three children. Julieta abruptly cancels the move, breaks up with Lorenzo, and moves to her former building, hoping that Antia someday communicates with her. Julieta, alone with her thoughts, starts to write her memories and her story is told in a series of flashbacks.

One of the most interesting things about Julieta is the double casting: Julieta in her twenties and early thirties is played by Adriana Ugarte, while in middle age is played by Emma Suárez. We witness what heartache and time can do to a person through Emma Suárez. Both actresses did amazing work, but I don’t think they were able to fully realize a powerhouse performance—they shared one. Had either actress solely portrayed the title character, the performance would have likely emerged as comparable to Cecilia Roth’s in All About My Mother. Speaking of performances, I want to note Rossy de Palma’s performance in this film: she amazingly “frumped” it up!

Clothes, wallpaper and furniture continue to play an integral part in Almodóvar’s films. Starting with Live Flesh, architecture has also played a major part in Almodóvar’s storytelling and is most evident in Julieta. The contrasts between urban and rural, wealthy and lower middle class are greatly explored though architecture.

Most notably, the film explored several thought-provoking questions:

  • Are we doomed to make the same mistakes our parents made?
  • Can we break the cycle of mistakes?
  • When is it okay to move on from a relationship that has ended because of a death or illness?
  • Does the physical proximity of family contribute to your mental health in a positive or negative way?

The final moments of Julieta actually address many of these questions in terms of the title character, but you may find yourself asking these of your own life. I think this is what makes the film great: it forces introspection and that is what stays with you.