Mubi

Film Review: Cousin Jules

The last time I set foot in a movie theater was in February of 2020 and with Omicron currently raging, it will likely be longer. I just subscribed to Mubi, and it is one of the best things I have ever done. In the week and half since I subscribed, I have seen quite a few interesting films and documentaries. Just last week I reviewed Red Moon Tide. Today, I wanted to share my thoughts on the 1973 documentary Cousin Jules, which was directed by Dominique Benicheti.

Dominique Benicheti (1943-2011) was a French film director and producer known for documentaries as well as innovative work on 3D film and animation. Starting in 1968 and for five years intermittently, he filmed his second cousin, Jules Guiteaux, who was a blacksmith, and his wife Félicie (who died midway through the shoot), on a small farm in the French Burgundy countryside. According to Moving Image Archive News, when it was released at the Locarno Film Festival in 1973, it was awarded a Special Jury Prize and hailed as a milestone in documentary filmmaking. It was later screened at the New Directors/New Films festival in New York, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Moscow International Film Festival. And that was it. It wasn’t seen again until a restored version was screened in 2013 at the New York Film Festival at the Film Forum. According to the New York Times, Cousin Jules, unlike most documentary films of the time, was filmed in a larger format (CinemaScope with stereo sound) that was not suitable for most art film houses of the time.

The film opens to the sounds of a rooster. We then see Jules wearing worn out wooden clogs and walking from his house to the large shed that contains his anvil, grindstone, and furnace. We see Jules at work, heating the iron bars that he bends and shapes on the anvil. Benicheti beautifully captures all these details in real time. Worn farming tools and kitchen wares are seen throughout the film, which captures life at the turn of the 20th century—it is a record of pre-industrial domestic and rural artistries. An ode to the handmade. The New York Times review, with a hint of snark, notes that the film “may also resonate among 21st-century devotees of the agrarian and the artisanal.”

Some may find the film a little frustrating in that there is no apparent narrative or dramatic progression (there isn’t even any music). It is just a slice of life. However, it is beautifully photographed, and the sound is nothing short of remarkable. Yes, I had questions about Jules and Félicie, and I wanted to know more about their lives (both were born in 1891 and lived through two world wars) but I was remarkably satisfied with it. It was a welcome break from this modern, mechanical world.

www.edwinroman.com

Film Review: Red Moon Tide

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.” – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

The concept of pure cinema has roots in silent film, when filmmakers had to tell a story visually without spoken dialogue. Red Moon Tide is indeed pure cinema for the 21st century: it was filmed on a digital camera and does have dialogue, sound, and music but employs it parsimoniously. It is a feast for the eyes. My lone regret is that I did not see it in a movie theater, but via the streaming service Mubi (but I am thankful for that).

The film is set in the Galicia region of Spain and revolves around the disappearance of Rubio, a fisherman who believed a sea monster was responsible for diminished fishing (as opposed to overfishing or pollution) and hunts it down. Rubio is a local legend in his own right, known for recovering the corpses of shipwrecked sailors. In his absence, the town literally comes to a standstill. Most people in this film essentially stand still (except for three witches), while life around them goes on: horses run, birds sing, water trickles and crashes. Rubio’s story is recounted poetically in voiceover by the residents of the Galician village.

“The sky at night is a black sea.

The stars, bright fish.

The moon, a monster.”

“The monster is the sea.

It has been sleeping for centuries.

We are its dream.”

The film gives you a lot of consider, exploring the power of mythology, nature, the illusion of nature being tamed and humanity’s place in a world that will go on whether we are here or not. A recurring motif in the film is a whale shark and it forced me to consider all of the sharks fished out of the water each year, their fins cut off, and then cruelly thrown back into the water to die a truly painful and slow death. Perhaps humans are the real monsters?

“That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.” – Martin Scorsese*

Camille Paglia, in Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, noted in the introduction how the modern eye is constantly exposed to flashing images everywhere via mass media (she wrote that even when one is pumping gasoline, there is often a television screen on top of the pump). Paglia states that we must relearn how to see and find focus: “…The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception—best supplied by the contemplation of art.” I want to applaud the director, Lois Patiño, for fostering pure cinema in a digital world ruled via smartphones by embracing and incorporating elements of still photography. In today’s movie market, too many films are made for those with short attention spans using cutting and camera work does not allow one to consider composition, scenery, and the actors. This film allows you to do all that and more. I feel fulfilled and will always remember this film as a masterpiece in my personal history of cinema. I hope that somehow, someway, this film is released in American theaters. We need less smartphones and more slow looking, focus and the grandeur of the movie screen.

edwinroman.com

* P.S. If you have previously read my blog, you know I also love all things comic books and superheroes, but that is not all I consume. I concurrently love popular culture and high art. They can and should co-exist in your world of entertainment and education.