Michel Deville

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Michel Deville

#26 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Apr 30, 2019 9:22 pm

Finishing off the 70s was easier than the 60s, with less to write about considering I’d already seen two of Deville’s masterpieces from the decade (L'Ours et la poupée and L’Apprenti salaud) and he wasn’t developing his style as rapidly by this point. I also realized that I had seen a Deville film before: Le mouton enragé (1974), a few years ago. I remember not liking it at all so there was no motivation to revisit it, but who knows; maybe it’ll be better in the context of his other work. From what I recall, it was pretty lifeless and uninteresting. Anyways,

Raphaël ou le Débauché (1972)

What starts off as a rather strong comedic costume drama in the vein of Tom Jones peters in its second half only to fizzle out by the end. I really admired some of the gags and funny lines in the first part, and even some of the well-acted dramatic moments in the second, but it dragged on for long enough to make me realize I didn’t care about any of the characters, which is something this Deville feature seemed to be pushing for, and rather forcefully at that. While he’s always interested in exploring the complexity of people, and absolutely cares about his own characters, Deville never really asks us to take them that seriously- instead finding less obvious ways to get us closer to understanding and appreciating them. This felt like a half-baked Deville film that became less distinguishable until I would’ve never guessed it was made by him at all. This wouldn’t be the first time that he takes such a sharp turn into serious terrain, but we miss the genre-toying Deville from Adorable menteuse precisely because of the lack of playful energy exerted once the drama kicks in. This is less flirting with genre, and more like two movies fused as one uneven experience (except the final shot completely undoes this seriousness and gave me a good laugh- though I’m not sure if it’s because it was actually funny to completely shift the mood back to the carefree nature of the beginning, or just only too welcome). Perhaps I’m being overly harsh by focusing on mostly negative aspects because I really didn’t hate this. Certain lines and scenes are good enough to still make me chuckle as I reflect back on them, so it’s not a bad movie so much as it just didn’t work as a whole.

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La femme en bleu (1973)

Thankfully Deville returns to his old self here, and then some! Domino already championed a lot of what makes this film work so well in his write-up, particularly in the analysis of Piccoli’s psychology and how it fits into Deville’s body of work thematically. What struck me about this was how emotionally zen it felt compared to his other films, with a mood far less erratic, zany, or untamed. That’s not to say that this is ordinary or even relaxed, but Deville seems to be meditating on something here- with less of a jump in range between the comedy and solemnity of being a human. Piccoli is always wanting, chasing, fearing, hiding, acting, or living for or after something. This may be Deville’s wisest film yet in many ways (content, formulation of mood), and not just because of how deep he delves into philosophical dialogue towards the end. The entire vibe is that of a mature filmmaker making a mature film, all while remaining exuberant and lighthearted. I’m itching to rewatch this already, and have a suspicion it’ll rank even higher in my esteem once I sit on it some more, as there’s a lot to unpack here and I’m still in a daze from my viewing 48 hours ago. I loved this so much that it rivals L'Ours and L’Apprenti for my favorite Deville, and that’s saying a lot considering the significant imbalance of humor between this and those!

Le dossier 51 (1978)

And now for something completely different: Deville goes back to experimenting with form to make a soup of surveillance thrillers and docu-drama noirs, both popular in the 70s but tracing back to the 40s. I appreciated this more than I liked it, and it’s a necessary step after the insanity of L’Apprenti salaud. There was no way Deville could top that and trying something new, especially a film mostly absent of comedy, is a welcome cool-down. The 60s may have been more experimental on the path of Deville’s professional development, but the 70s were just as diverse a decade for the director; and while less consistent in quality between films, probably wins out on the strength of three masterpieces alone.
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Sat May 04, 2019 4:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Michel Deville

#27 Post by domino harvey » Tue Apr 30, 2019 10:45 pm

I also realized that I had seen a Deville film before: Le mouton enragé (1974), a few years ago. I remember not liking it at all so there was no motivation to revisit it, but who knows; maybe it’ll be better in the context of his other work. From what I recall, it was pretty lifeless and uninteresting.
I feel the same way about On a volé la Joconde, which I saw before realizing Deville was a major figure. On the one hand, it’s possible I missed out on what the film was doing because I couldn’t appreciate it within Deville’s oeuvre. On the other hand, if I were to go on to one day discover that, say, Edouard Molinaro was also a master of cinema, that wouldn’t make Une ravissante idiote any less of a piece of shit

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Re: Michel Deville

#28 Post by domino harvey » Wed May 01, 2019 10:45 am

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Le voyage en douce (1980) + Eaux profondes (1981)

Here we have back to back films exploring unusual sexual proclivities, one much better than the other. Le voyage en douce [P] is allegedly strung together by Deville from a collection of sexual encounters he commissioned female authors to provide, which are then enacted or told orally by his two protagonists, Geraldine Chaplin and Dominique Sanda from Une femme douce. The movie has much of Deville’s relentless energy and typical adventurousness, but there is an inconsistency here to his method that shows the seams. Take the fantasies, which fluctuate heavily in how they are presented: sometimes in sequential still photographs, other times the adult characters interact with the past in present, sometimes their past selves are observed, and at least once there’s a combo action of several of these approaches. I found this a bit rudderless in execution, and that’s kind of CC:ed to the rest of the movie. It does not help that Chaplin and Sanda play deeply annoying characters, and moments meant to come off as coquettish often just make them look like assholes (see their terrorization of a hapless teenager)— I could see this same material working with a pair of actresses capable of getting the capricious tone right, but these aren’t it. I was aware while watching that while I highly value Deville’s seemingly infinite ability to surprise me and upend conventional narratives, this doesn’t always result in a good film.

So what works? Well, for all the forthright sexual material (culminating in the truly ridiculous but admirably nuts scene in which
SpoilerShow
Chaplin erotically shaves Sanda’s armpits)
the best moment here is Deville somehow finding a new way to present a cinematic rape scene, which I won’t spoil except to say that the rest of the film could have used this level of non-prurient invention.

Eaux profondes is also about sex, but in a much stranger (!) way. While far less experimental than the last couple Deville films that came before it, the film’s narrative gets at something in many ways far more disturbing and unsettling. Deville adapts Patricia Highsmith’s Deep Water and significantly alters its narrative so that it changes from a noir story of a cuckold husband killing his wife’s lovers into a study of a sexual fetish so specific and deeply rooted in the participants (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert) that it’s not until the end that we realize what exactly was going on the whole time.
SpoilerShow
From reading the Wiki summary of Deep Water, Deville completely jettisons the original last act and replaces it with the implication that everything we’ve seen on-screen between Trintignant and Huppert has been part of their fetish. Not just the hotwife aspects, but even the murders (and the subsequent reportage to police, ostracization of Huppert, court proceedings, and so on). This recontextualizes the earlier moments we thought we understood, as they become evidence of shared complicity and goading on to their end goal. And that end goal is, like all fetishes observed from without by those who don’t share them, somewhat baffling and unerotic for the viewer (or one hopes, for this one at least).
In a way this may be the best film about extreme sexual fetishism in that it removes all understandable erotic impulses in its presentation and reality. This is in its fashion a more extreme version of Crash that removes even traditional transference of sexual markers and evidence of their erotic charge, making the film even more baffling for those not on its wavelength. Given that Deville’s most popular film (unseen by me, yet) La lectrice is apparently also pitched along these lines, it will be interesting to see what else he brings to this subject. As is, Deville making his version of a Chabrol thriller in which the entire narrative is revealed to essentially be
SpoilerShow
one long sex act
is already about as subversive as I can see this topic getting!

After watching these, we can add Christophe Malavoy and Jean-Louis Trintignant to the growing list of actors making repeat Deville appearances. In contrast to Huppert, who is pretty much wasted by Eaux profondes (but by design, it must be said), Trintignant is terrific here, and a great reminder that he’s one of our best actors at playing arrogant weaklings.
Spoiler for Eaux profondesShow
One of the strength’s of Eaux profondes is the ambiguity around Trintignant’s sexuality. The visit of schoolteacher’s wife at the perfume factory is a key scene and one that slyly shows Trintignant has no interest in pursuing a traditional sexual relationship with a woman. What that means for his fetish is puckishly unresolved: is he gay and getting off on the idea of classy men being with his wife, or is his sexual proclivity so specific that he can’t find interest in any other form of eroticism? It’s probably obvious from this write-up that I don’t “get” sexual fetishism at all, but perhaps that’s why I’m so readily able to see and accept its unusual utilization here: is this really all that more or less ridiculous than any other more “traditional” form?

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Re: Michel Deville

#29 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed May 01, 2019 2:24 pm

Oddly enough, I was going to post my thoughts on these two last night, but fell asleep. I’ve added only a few sentences to respond to domino’s writeups, otherwise they stand as written:

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Le voyage en douce (1980)

Well domino, it looks like we finally become divided on a Deville film as I was completely taken by this. It turns out that Le dossier 51 was no outlier, as Deville continues to apply his experimentation with style to a more singular genre, this time in the form of a deep drama. What an unexpectedly welcome surprise! The dynamic between the two main actresses- as well as the deep introspection into each characters’ respective psyche- was as complex, spirited, and energetic as any of Deville’s best works. Always a great director of women, how refreshing it is to see him center a film around solely female leads for the first time in nearly 20 years! Particularly flipping the exposition of the promiscuous male to sexually active (and more importantly- yearning) females, and refusing to knock any elements of sexual and power dynamics off the table, highlights just how bold a move this film is for the director. The strength of the film owes a considerable amount of credit to the performances of Dominique Sanda and Geraldine Chaplin, who are I thought were both extraordinary and carry the feel of this journey to places the script and direction would never reach without such capable and brave actors. I see domino’s point that they can come across as annoying, and much of the enjoyment of the film rides on one’s ability to not only tolerate them, but to find them interesting amongst the clunky and unexpected trajectory of the story and style. Deville’s unpredictable and inconsistent camera movement and editing choices throw everything at the wall with POV shots, shifts in framing and angles, still photographs with voiceover, abrupt push-ins and more: ideas that he fiddled with in the 70s, as well as new ones- including a slight-of-hand drop-swoop of the camera as the wind begins to blow during a photo sesh that combines almost all of these! And yes, the rape “scene” caught me so off guard that the film delved into a new kind of horror for a moment. I cannot dispute any perspective that sees this as “rudderless execution” but this worked for me despite, and because of, its uneven nature as I was continuously engrossed and surprised when everything thrown at the wall happened to somehow stick for me against all odds.

Deville also demonstrates a newly developed confidence in the skill of patience by providing more relaxed space in this narrative for the actors to freely interact, in a way he’s never really done before. He showed the emergence of this interest in the early 60s, and a bit in L'Ours, but never with such ease, or natural reserve. At times I felt like I was watching a darker version of Celine and Julie Go Boating, or Du Cote D'Orouët with those girls all grown up, retaining attributes of their innocence whilst evoking symptoms of the brokenness that is inevitable with universal developmental milestones (including the aforementioned annoyance and assholery, as well as some likable traits). This film cannot be easily summed up with words, for within the drama is an appropriately diverse fluctuation of moods. It is not simply depressing, upbeat, cynical, silly, serious, funny, sexy, cringe-inducing, exhausting, passionate, restrained, or alive. It is all of those things and much more. While mileage will vary here more than most of Deville’s output, it’s worth discovering for yourself. Please just see it.

Eaux profondes (1981)

Yet another moment where Deville restricts himself to genre, though here he restrains himself to mood as well as limited stylish eccentricities in the spirit of a Patricia Highsmith sexual thriller. We get the classic pieces of a marital drama oozing with dread, with familiar (to the genre and Deville) illustrations of relationship dynamics and sexual politics and better-than-average performances, with Trintignant a particular standout. At first I was a bit disappointed at how conventionally Deville plays this when we know he has more tricks up his sleeve than what he offers in the first part. However, as the film progresses and especially as it comes to a close, we realize how original and twisted this tale has been all along. Deville is trying something new by making a serious attempt at creating some real suspense, and sets a consistent mood with confidence. That’s where I stop as I have nothing more to add to domino’s terrific analysis- it definitely made me appreciate the film more!
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Sat May 04, 2019 4:28 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Michel Deville

#30 Post by domino harvey » Wed May 01, 2019 6:21 pm

Your comments are interesting, because I don’t actually rate Deville very highly as a director of women. He’s not bad at it, obviously, since he’s an incredibly skillful filmmaker, but he seems much more interested in the male point of view in most of his films. However, he appears quite self-aware of the problems of men (especially the rogue sorts Deville is drawn to) and willing to second-guess the chauvinist inclinations within, so many of these could serve as plausible feminist works regardless!

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Re: Michel Deville

#31 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed May 01, 2019 8:26 pm

Oh I agree, and I suppose I didn’t intend to emphasize him as a great director of women in relation to men within his body of work, because he certainly does predominantly focus on the male perspective and also seems more interested across the majority of his films to present and digest various insights on conditions specific to the male. What I was getting at is that he brings out a significant range from most of his actors, and has gotten some terrific performances showcasing new skills from women I’m not sure another filmmaker would have been able to (i.e. Bardot’s comic idiosyncrasies in L'Ours). When he’s able to move away from the meditation on maleness (which he frequently does) towards broader social dynamics, Deville seems to understand his female characters better than many of his contemporaries do. Or maybe he’s just willing to sit with them and provide the space necessary to elicit these authentic performances due to his directing style. Whatever the secret root of his abilities is, my statement was not meant to be comparative within his oeuvre, but comparative outside of it to other films of the French New Wave and -more boldly- the time period in which he was most active (or at least the 60s-early 80s)!

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Re: Michel Deville

#32 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed May 01, 2019 10:19 pm

I was going to try to take a break and finish up the 80s later this week, but then I watched...

La petite bande (1983)
Image

and I can’t keep it in:

This is The One.

After a six-year hiatus and three moody features, Deville returns to the playful world of comedy and adventure for the first time since L’Apprenti salaud. I don’t want to say much about this one, because it’s such a unique film that the simplest descriptors would spoil the surprise.
SpoilerShow
(i.e. that it is completely wordless)
I will say that this is Deville at his most inventive, on par with or surpassing those 70s masterpieces, with an imagination and vision that feels like a cross between Jacques Tati, Buster Keaton, and Raul Ruiz. It’s no coincidence that Deville’s most playful film yet is about children, and between this and L'Ours et la poupée it’s a wonder he hasn’t used them more! Deville gets such natural performances here, and along with his staging of scenes, it plays like a Moonrise Kingdom meets Manoel on the Island of Marvels by way of The Goonies, though without any witty dialogue or verbal means to establish characters or relationships between them. Deville relies solely on the visual possibilities of the medium, evoking so much humor and feeling from his ability to experiment sans verbal expression, whether directing the movement of characters within a scene, utilizing blocking, music, spatial recognition, setpieces packed with physical props, animation, or resting the camera on a child’s face to show us all we need to know- be it an authentic smile, playful grin, or fearful stare. Along with the physical comedy and visual gags (at a similar lightning pace as the manic L’Apprenti salaud!) Deville enters fantastical and surrealistic terrain to mediate on the fears and mysteries of childhood much like Ruiz does in his best work. This film is pretty much a musical-fantasy-adventure-‘coming-of-age’-comedy, and
SpoilerShow
Deville even goes into sci-fi territory at the end!
The variety of genres and moods covered here is monstrous, and the film feels so jam-packed with ideas and action that not a second of the <90-minute screen time is wasted. Deville really does it all here and pulls off a film with absolutely nothing missing from what a movie about kids should include, setting a new standard by which they should all be measured. Instead of spoilertagging any of my favorite moments and running the risk of writing a book in the process, I will just say that this is one of the most original, vivacious, and best movies I’ve ever seen. If you see one Deville, this is the film.
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Fri May 03, 2019 10:48 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: Michel Deville

#33 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 02, 2019 1:27 am

Image

La petite bande (1983)

(Note: My write-up contains information therewillbeblus considers spoiler territory, but I think the basic element of the film that I discuss is inescapable and important to realize for potential viewers. But if you'd rather not know the score beforehand and want to skip my thoughts below, the short version is see this movie and you can do so via the French DVD, regardless of what the case or listings say)


Deville goes from back to back films exploring alternative/aberrant sex acts and delivers... a tremendous kids' adventure film that the whole family can enjoy, one filled with lowkey sight gags, steady laffs, and a dark undercurrent present in the best of childrens entertainment. So is it another masterpiece from Deville? Of course. And again, here's a film everyone can enjoy. Literally everyone, as there's no dialogue. therewillbeblus, I understand and respect your desire to spoiler the basic methodology of the film, but I feel like you are doing a disservice to everyone that you want to see this film if they don't realize that they can still import the French DVD even though it will not have subtitles listed... plus I already spoilered it back when I made the first post, so it's been out there for a while!

My prevailing thought while watching this joyful and delightful movie was that we have been failed by the keepers of film reputation. The people who were supposed to alert us to the mastery of Deville haven't. I don't know why. But it makes me legit and unironically upset. Where were our champions of great film art these past decades? Right now this film has all of ten viewers on Letterboxd. It could sustain a hundred thousand times that. But it hasn't, and likely won't ever. There's no language barrier here. The story is universal and depends only on being able to watch a movie. All delights offered are still funny if you're five or have a five o'clock shadow. The kids are treated like real kids and their responses are true to that even in outlandish scenarios. This isn't the false childhood of Truffaut's insufferable L'Argent de poche (and that film being so widely known and beloved while this is one step away from oblivion is just another injustice to add to the pile). Kids watching will respect this movie's "realism" and envy its heroes while adults will recognize their younger selves or their kids or grandkids. I don't quite rate it as highly as therewillbeblus in the Deville canon (It's not my favorite, though it's certainly up there), but as an accessible entry point to Deville's on-screen mastery and evidence of Deville's galling absence in discussions of all time great directors from fucking anyone, ever, you couldn't do better. I don't even know what to do with the knowledge that Deville has at this point in chronological viewing delivered 25 years of mostly great films that would be the envy of any ten directors put together. And I can't blame anyone here for not singing Deville's praises earlier, since we were never given a chance (Plus if you don't have access to back channel resources or speak French, you still haven't been).

If I had seen La petite bande when I was a kid, it would have been my favorite movie. Why did I not have that opportunity?

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Re: Michel Deville

#34 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 02, 2019 11:00 am

So, no real likelihood of "civilians" (i.e. persons not properly connected to the internet grey-market) seeing Petite bande or the various comedies?

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Re: Michel Deville

#35 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 02, 2019 11:22 am

If you’re region free, La petite bande has an “English friendly” DVD from Gaumont. There’s a DVD guide in the first post for the other films that only lists other scant English-friendly releases, but I think most of the US ones are OOP...

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Re: Michel Deville

#36 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu May 02, 2019 8:33 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Thu May 02, 2019 1:27 am
I understand and respect your desire to spoiler the basic methodology of the film, but I feel like you are doing a disservice to everyone that you want to see this film if they don't realize that they can still import the French DVD
It didn’t even cross my mind to sacrifice the privilege of going in blind for the sake of overcoming the most significant barrier to seeing these films: accessibility! Thanks for pushing back and doing this, because if one really can import this so easily it needs to be done (and regardless of the density of themes discussed overall in this thread, this film can join the shortlist of “safe, rewarding blind-buys”).
domino harvey wrote:
Thu May 02, 2019 1:27 am
If I had seen La petite bande when I was a kid, it would have been my favorite movie. Why did I not have that opportunity?
Although I haven’t been as vocal as you have so far in expressing frustration regarding Deville’s absence from discussion and access in the film community, I feel obligated to join this chant. For the last few features, I’ve decided to click every link I could find on the web and was equally deflated when there was no discussion on the Letterboxd page for this. A lot of what I’ve read on most of the films don’t seem to reflect what I, you, and the few people I’ve shown some of these films to, see in his work. I’ve read the word “conventional” and plenty of others that either label these films with words opposite to the complexity I see at work, or essentially describe the films as “okay, but nothing special.” Of course one is allowed to have that opinion, but when there are so few voices out there on this director, it’s painful to see such complicated and genius works either dismissed, or not talked about at all, or at best given a thumb’s up with little more to say. Perhaps I’m not looking in the “right” places, but I hope more people read this thread and decide to take a chance on this filmmaker. When you’ve seen so many films and think there’s little more out there, there’s nothing more exciting than discovering a new auteur you couldn’t believe you never knew existed. I felt this way several years ago when I discovered Raul Ruiz by reading this forum and many posters’ love for him, and then again last year when I discovered Rozier and Moodysson, also via this forum. I should actually say that I was shown these and many, many others, because I trusted your (the general ‘you’) words and opinions and owe many of my all-time favorite films to acting on your suggestions by treating them as opportunities to potentially find a new piece of art in the dark. I hope that, even without reading any of the specific writeups, more people can and do the same with Deville, based solely on the passion gushing from two people. I realize I’m a new poster without many tastes to compare for compatibility testing, but Deville really does stand with the best of them and I can only plead those who can access some of these to do yourselves a favor and take the opportunity to potentially discover that new filmmaker in the shadows.

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Re: Michel Deville

#37 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 02, 2019 9:20 pm

At this point in chronological viewing, even if the other films left in his filmography were just a dozen remakes of Gone Fishin’, Deville’s legacy is secure in the body of his works. It’s just up to people to see them by any means necessary. Maybe when all these boutique labels run out of bad movies to restore and release, they’ll get around to these and people can judge for themselves. But as therewillbeblus says, it’s a bit like looking into Bizarro World right now because his works are so self-evidently masterful pieces of craftsmanship/art of the highest order (by that I mean an equal to the directors I would consider without hesitation to be among the best of all time: Hitchcock, Chabrol, &c) that to find no friendly voices reassuring you is like being transported back to the audience at Cannes 1960 and hearing everyone else booing L’avventura

It’s also worth noting for all those reading who are ambivalent due to a bad past experience that the two biggest Deville champions on the board right now (and seemingly the entire internet) both coincidentally also had awful first experiences with Deville that didn’t send us deeper, and boy didn’t we change our tunes

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Re: Michel Deville

#38 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Fri May 03, 2019 5:49 am

domino harvey wrote:
Thu May 02, 2019 9:20 pm

It’s also worth noting for all those reading who are ambivalent due to a bad past experience that the two biggest Deville champions on the board right now (and seemingly the entire internet) both coincidentally also had awful first experiences with Deville that didn’t send us deeper, and boy didn’t we change our tunes
That scorching sensation on my neck is I assume the spotlight being turned on me since I wrote this 2 years ago in the New Wave thread

"As a devout Huppertini I watched 'Eaux profondes' and couldn't wait to finish it to relist it for sale on Amazon. Apparently 'Péril' is in the same mould of nymphomaniac hysterics taking on their moribund vengeful hubbies. Bon courage.
Granted i haven't seen earlier Deville . Gaumont have put out 4 expensive volumes of collections so it could be that they may get cheaper individual blu re-releases in which case I might try the 60's stuff".

Tenia also chimed in with his take on finding Peril emetic and couldn't even see it through to the end

Well I can't speak for him but after your banner waving zealot fervour I will at least go to La petite Bande and give that a whirl and given Gaumont's endeavour to massively overhaul their stock I hope that the early stuff is reissued on the Blu Découverte imprint which I would certainly dip into .
I fear however that Eaux and Peril despite your spirited interpretation and reading of the subject matter will remain beyond the pale... If that comes across as condescending It is not intended.

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Re: Michel Deville

#39 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri May 03, 2019 7:56 am

NABOB OF NOWHERE wrote:
Fri May 03, 2019 5:49 am
I fear however that Eaux and Peril despite your spirited interpretation and reading of the subject matter will remain beyond the pale... If that comes across as condescending It is not intended.
I can’t speak for domino, but there are definitely a few Devilles that don’t exactly contain the ‘magical spark’ of the majority of his films, and Eaux profondes is one of them. While I liked the film more after reading domino’s analysis, and can appreciate it in the context of Deville's body of work on a thematic level, it’s one of the few in his filmography that I dared used the word “conventional” to describe parts of (before bashing the descriptor in a following post..) and would appear in the bottom half of my personal ranking. I can’t speak for Peril, but Eaux doesn’t capture Deville’s diverse strengths or style as well as most others do and even if one loved the film and ranked it at the top, they’d be hard-pressed to call it representative of the qualities that have been championed in these impassioned defenses.

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Re: Michel Deville

#40 Post by domino harvey » Fri May 03, 2019 12:10 pm

Yes, while I liked it more than anyone else here, I don't think Eaux profondes is a good representation of Deville's strengths. Since NABOB and tenia are both native French speakers, I would of course recommend they (or anyone who can) try L'ours et la poupée or L'apprenti salaud, as I think if anyone could watch either of those and not find themselves awed or at the very least vibe on Deville's wavelength, they clearly get something else out of movies than I do and can safely move on without feeling any need to dig further. I wouldn't make such a claim for La petite bande, as I suspect it is quite possible to merely enjoy it without being wowed by it (though I would be surprised if anyone here actively disliked it or worse). Of course, funnily enough, the other poster here who weighed in with pisspoor Deville first impressions is zedz, who I believe would actually love La petite bande most of all!

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Re: Michel Deville

#41 Post by domino harvey » Fri May 03, 2019 12:22 pm

Also worth noting that I poked around on Amazon last night and Pathfinder's DVD of La femme en bleu (as the Woman in Blue) is apparently not OOP and is only $12. This isn't one I would rest Deville's reputation on, but for those without access to back channels, it's something and you could do worse as a taste. However, given that it's a Pathfinder release and I still "fondly" remember their Chabrol wrecks, I can't vouch for the disc's quality (my copy is the French release)

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Re: Michel Deville

#42 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri May 03, 2019 12:50 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Fri May 03, 2019 12:10 pm
I would of course recommend they (or anyone who can) try L'ours et la poupée or L'apprenti salaud, as I think if anyone could watch either of those and not find themselves awed or at the very least vibe on Deville's wavelength, they clearly get something else out of movies than I do and can safely move on without feeling any need to dig further. I wouldn't make such a claim for La petite bande, as I suspect it is quite possible to merely enjoy it without being wowed by it (though I would be surprised if anyone here actively disliked it or worse).
This is probably the best advice. Those two 70s features reveal a wider range of Deville's many talents and, while I'm still completely bowled over by the expeditious fusion of his skills in La petite bande (and think it's Deville at his most accessible) I'm glad I started with L'ours et la poupée as a jumping off point, and on any given day it could still be my favorite. Even my partner, who self-reportedly finds French films "annoying," was laughing her head off in the first 20 minutes at the dynamics between Jean-Pierre Cassel and his children, so I can't imagine those of us who don't put up such rigid barriers to silly things like a film's country of origin wouldn't find something to love here, unless- as domino said- one is looking for a different experience from the medium.

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Re: Michel Deville

#43 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri May 03, 2019 7:37 pm

Finishing off the 80s:

Les capricieux (1984)

Well that didn’t take long. Deville seems to have tired himself out after going completely haywire with La petite bande (which seems to be the norm now after these exhaustingly zany masterpieces), returning to the less complicated period film. While I remember liking it at parts and enjoying some of the stylistic flourishes, this was ultimately passable and it’s almost completely escaped my memory already. I do appreciate how Deville can take a type of film I typically don’t find interesting (i.e. period costume drama) and keep me engaged by refusing to restrain himself completely to rote conventions. When you apply his liveliness to a genre often directed in a reserved style you don’t automatically get something special, but it’s still better than most. This is not even close to the far end of that spectrum that includes The Favourite, Love and Friendship, and this year’s Mademoiselle de Joncquières, but even a fraction of the way there is worth a few words and a minor celebration.

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Le Paltoquet (1986)

Deville makes another crime-mystery film but this time in a fantastical stage play hybrid. If that sounds odd, that’s because it is- but it’s a Deville film, so as usual the joke’s on the viewer who thinks the director has run out of possible places to push a genre! Some scenes feel like they’re taken straight out of a David Lynch film in their surreal and bizarre nature, and much of the action is set in a spacious room with darkness in the place of walls, evoking the isolating sensation of Dogville’s set. Then you have Michel Piccoli as an eccentric antisocial type, who just kind of hangs around the action, behaving both predictably and unpredictably, alternating between a participant in the story and an observer. There are Brechtian techniques aplenty applied here, especially regarding staging (i.e. the look of the set, framing of the actors, and constant near-breaking of the fourth wall) as well as sound:
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Piccoli moving his hands, scratching his nose, tapping his fingers on the door, etc. to create music in rhythm with these movements adds to the fun atmosphere, as does that wonderful transition from the opening credits to narrative via Piccoli swatting at the final name!
This murder mystery film feels completely unlike anything else, while also fitting the mold for many movies that have come before and after. I don’t rank this among his best work, and didn’t particularly care for the story itself, but that’s secondary to the blast I had watching Deville make more wild artistic choices and wondering what was going on in his mind when he conceived of this. As this auteur binge winds down it’s more than enough to watch Deville take another familiar ‘something’ and make it unrecognizable.

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La Lectrice (1988)

It’s difficult to go into this without (I don’t want to say “expectations” because at this point I’ve surrendered such foolish ways of approaching these films), let’s say, “extra attentive curiosity,” since this was Deville’s most popular film internationally. I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint, and while it doesn’t reach extremes on the comic or dramatic ranges, it’s not reaching for them: Deville has a different agenda. So what is he interested in exploring? There’s a lot to unpack here when taken in the context of Deville’s oeuvre: particularly his interest in the juxtaposition between social interaction and individual desires. The reader reads books to a series of people, who then project their desires (elicited from the content of the books, or what they are most looking for in life, completely unrelated to the books? Could it be both?) onto the reader. Marie (or is it Constance? Or both?) plays with these roles and desires by acting on them and fighting them, depending on her mood or, at times, the mood of the other. All parties seem to be channeling their complex desires and/or identities into simplified, tangible forms within their interactions, much like people do to make relationships of all kinds work. The easiest example of this is demonstrated by power dynamics (i.e. a sadomasochistic relationship, but really any exchange in the balance of power). Deville certainly uses this example but he’s not trying to meditate only on the sexual. There is a strong argument to be made for these characters wanting to play caretaker and to be taken care of (the mother-daughter dynamic as well as the elderly woman are obvious examples but I would argue all of them fit this mold), staying comfortable in specific power dynamics and pushing the limits of their identified roles when appropriate, depending on where the power is in the respective relationship at this moment in time. Marie enjoys the process of depersonalization, becoming an object and escaping from her self and her life. By giving up her identity and becoming a ‘submissive’ or ‘dominant,’ she gains power either way via the escape and the ability to allow herself to become derivative to a single focus; as do those she reads to: they are submissive (I mean, they’re being read to) and also dominant in their ability to project their desires onto Marie. The fact that this is all told through a purposefully distorted, unclear, and overlapping narrative blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, only lends itself to the themes of shifting dynamics and exposes the sobering truth that we can never truly know another human being, which determines all these games we play (i.e. role playing, projection). We as the audience are powerless and yet we have all the power to analyze this to death and determine for ourselves what is real or not, or what Marie and the other characters are trying to achieve. Are these our projections? This is Deville’s most complicated analysis of individuals living in a social world, and arguably his most playful film, as he’s playing with the audience via the medium, thematically focusing on how people play roles with one another. That’s how we interact, he argues, to get something we need from another person, who’s identity, thoughts, emotions, needs, and desires we can never truly trust and know- and he’s right. The paradox of socialization, burnt like an ant under the magnifying scope of subjective reality.
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Sat May 04, 2019 4:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Michel Deville

#44 Post by domino harvey » Fri May 03, 2019 8:02 pm

I watched Les capricieux earlier today and I won't pretend that it's anything other than minor Deville, but I definitely liked it more than you did. Nicole Garcia carries this TV film, and her playful perf here is exactly what I was looking for from either participant of Le voyage en douce. Flitting about in inconsequential ways while the world burns around them, I found this one to be a charmingly accommodating look at the kind of middle-ground middle class who could afford to be flippant about matters of politics and state and, well, assassination of public figures! I was especially taken by the finale, in which
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being sentenced to death allows the protagonists to admit and find comfort within their love for each other without coquettish distancing tactics, allowing for an unexpectedly happy ending and a great last line from the soldier.
In a world in which the odds of even Deville's best-known works getting English-friendly releases are rather poor, this is probably the least likely of all his films so far to find its way to a commercial subbed release (maybe as an extra on an American release of Peril due to Garcia's involvement?), but I thoroughly enjoyed its drollness and economy and any enterprising label could do worse even if it isn't thrown in with some other higher profile Deville works.
Finishing off the 80s
Well, after you pick up the region-free English-subbed French blu-ray of Peril en la demeure! Here's my writeup of that from the Cesars thread, my esteem for which hasn't changed any now that I've caught up to it in chronological viewing
domino harvey wrote:
Tue Oct 30, 2018 11:15 am
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Péril en la demeure (Michel Deville)
I’ve been watching Deville’s films chronologically but I skipped ahead for this and my affection for it may throw a wrench in getting people here to discover this crucial underlooked auteur, as I loved this as much as his core early films with Nina Companeez and think it shows Deville’s great strengths in fluidity of narrative and uneasy combinations of genre expectations. This is ostensibly a typical noir plot: Married rich woman carries on affair, someone finds out and starts blackmailing the lovers, lover kills husband, and things get complicated. And yet every aspect is tweaked: zedz criticized the film elsewhere for having a “back-patting ‘erotic’ edginess” to it, but I think quite tellingly Deville only begins his film with these elements before discarding them completely. We quickly go from an absurd scene where Anémone is trying to shock Christophe Malavoy by talking about their barmaid’s “pussy hairs” and a geometrically nude sex scene with future director and Cesar mainstay Nicole Garcia, both of which are pitched so high that I don’t know how anyone can take them at face value, and then swiftly move on to much weirder territory as Richard Bohringer’s assassin ingratiates himself into Malavoy’s life, commanding friendship and offering him advice that is coded in homosexual meaning. Deville films all of the complications and narrative movements with some clever camera movements and creative bridging wherein the movement from one scene is resolved in the next (Malavoy reaches up in bed to grab a canister, pulling it back down fully dressed in his kitchen, &c). More than mere showiness, I think Deville is showing us how his different genres and approaches are bleeding into one another, until we don’t know what’s really going on. And as in something like the Big Sleep, we’re pulled so many ways by the end that we don’t even really care about the specifics of the resolution, so long as it feels right. And this feels right.

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Re: Michel Deville

#45 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri May 03, 2019 8:56 pm

You’ve convinced me to give Les capricieux another go at some point. I certainly found it charming, but possibly missed the unique details you mentioned due to the pace I’ve been going through Deville’s films this week. I’m sure some of these films may rise or fall in esteem outside of their context or chronological placement. And now I’ll pick up Péril en la demeure to finish off the 80s for real! Sounds right up my alley.

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Re: Michel Deville

#46 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat May 04, 2019 2:30 pm

Here’s the 90s sans unavailable films, and Deville’s final two in the aughts:

Nuit d'été en ville (1990)

An appropriate follow up to La Lectrice that could be viewed as a companion film. This eliminates the former’s imaginative narrative style to highlight the same themes, placing the story in a single space over a single night, with a single relationship. The big difference this time around (beyond setting conditions) is that Deville is digging deeper, and more specific, than the vast net he cast over the entire ocean of social dynamics in his last entry. Here he chooses to analyze the psychology of how two individuals battle, succumb, and negotiate in their attempts to achieve harmony in their union. We watch these two people role playing over the course of the evening, and
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finally collapsing in bed at the end of it all, seemingly accepting the irony that their quest is simultaneously both impossible and yet necessary to hope for and put forth effort to secure- because of human nature, yes, but also philosophically, like Sisyphus and his stone.
I think the film may argue that this harmony is not hopeless if one negotiates expectations to not aim at fully “knowing” another. With a new goal and acceptance of the individual’s place in a social world, always wanting but never able to achieve total connection with another, it becomes possible on a subjective level to achieve a connection through a willingness to bare ourselves authentically.
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That the two lovers begin the film naked whilst playfully talking, put clothes on during their self-conscious attempts to know one another as defenses go up and down, and end half-naked again on the bed, in the same place but having gone through this experience together, bodies apart without the full-blown passion of the beginning yet smiling contently, is indicative of the process of bearing oneself naked to another to achieve momentary harmony or understanding.
While certainly expanding on La Lectrice in a few worthy thought-provoking areas, this was more fun to analyze than to watch. As much as I love the chamber relationship drama done well, this was more interesting when Deville chose to penetrate the mind with more abstract and playful means in his last feature. Still, this is a fascinating film that deserves to be seen.

Toutes peines confondues (1992)

I couldn’t help but think of Sophie’s kittenish exclamation in Adorable menteuse, “That’s so hard-boiled!” in jest, while watching Deville craft a crime film 30 years later that’s so hard-boiled it’s practically solid rock. Watching Deville take a sexy Shakespearean tale and inject his slick stylistic tricks was entertaining, especially noting his choice of camera placement and lighting. Toward the end of my viewing, I couldn’t help but think of Deville as an ‘old master’ by this point, gracefully infusing his auteurist traits into a film that on the surface doesn’t scream “Deville.” I enjoyed this for its simple pleasures, which was just what the doctor ordered after the psychological and philosophical charge exuded from his last two social deconstructions. However this isn’t exactly light fare, and the two final scenes before the actual final shot
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Antoine’s ride to his death as an affectionate, beautiful moment between two men; Jeanne rhetorically telling Vade, “What does it matter as long as it helps us?” as she replaces him with her dead husband by providing him with the physical object his jacket, and in the process giving herself to him sexually as the jacket was covering her bottom half leaving her naked in more ways than one!
are so perfect in their tragic authenticity that I feel compelled to re-evaluate the entire film through a more humanistic lens; which, let’s face it, screams “Deville.”

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La maladie de Sachs (1999)

Deville pours his heart out to create a deeply affecting experience. Every ounce of love and resentment toward his fellow man is on display in this comedy-drama about a small town doctor. This is a serious film stuffed with strikingly funny moments, or vice versa, but this is not the kind of humor Deville primarily exhibits- rather it’s the kind of “funny” that is only funny because of how real it is. Again this meditates on social dynamics but not as densely as previous efforts, for there is a lightness amidst the drama - a kind of Albert Brooks style of tackling the misanthropic individual forced to live amongst other human beings. The film’s premise is humorous itself because the misanthrope is the town doctor, an aide to the people; and also all the more serious because he is a doctor, with suffering patients all around him providing some very powerfully striking emotional moments. An appropriate film to make toward the end of a career, and lifetime, of exploring the joke of human interaction, as Deville stops exploring and turns to simply meditate on what he’s found.
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The waitress people-watching Bruno and Pauline, attempting to ‘know’ them through judgment, expressing contempt and affection simultaneously, saying in the end: “They piss me off, but I only have them, so I take care of them” seems a perfect simplification of Deville’s humanistic outlook.
As the film goes on, it morphs into something greater. Deville takes this as an opportunity to move his focus slowly from relationships between people to the individual’s relationship to life itself, including death as a part of life, in ways he (surprisingly) hasn’t done before.
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The story Sachs tells about his father dying: “[the watch] never stopped, but he died anyway” is incredibly moving, as is his speech near the end about why he doesn’t want to have children, the inverted Buddhist anti-acceptance of life as suffering, and of course the hopeful ending as a new “beginning.”
I absolutely loved this film, and although it doesn’t feel like a ‘Deville film’ on the surface (he’s aborted most of his stylistic flourishes, perhaps deliberately so as not to distract from the film’s intended impact), I connected strongly with the places he decided to go and would rank this quite high within his collected works.

Un monde presque paisible (2002)

You know Deville can do it all when he’s able to make a very grave subject (a story about people trying to rebuild their lives post-holocaust) balanced with the style of humor he hasn’t touched since the 80s, pertaining to the character in both physical comedy and dialogue. This is a serious film, but the cast’s, particularly Simon Abkarian‘s, mannerisms provide just the right amount of quirks to lighten the mood without offending the severity of the drama. Deville shows his old chops at being a director of actors in an ensemble again, as they all work together to create such well-realized characters who can move between serious and comic moods with ease, as people do in real life, despite the situation they find themselves in.
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That Deville is able to transition moods between a fantasy story causing a child to hold an authentic smile on camera eliciting a response of pure joy, to a scene of people talking about a child dying and how one copes with such a loss, without coming across as forced or melodramatic, is a testament to his greatness.
Deville continues to focus on new themes after his last feature, this time on the importance of memory to individual and collective groups, as well as spotlighting the ever-present thematic touch of interpersonal difficulties, with perspectives clashing on how to cope with tragedy and circumstance together and apart. Another late period treasure.

Un fil à la patte (2005)

For his final film. Deville returns to the spitfire comedy, this time more of a farce and pumping with a bit too much energy. The camera stays in constant motion, which is usually a good thing, but here the approach can be dizzying in a sloppy, jarring manner- at times bordering on found footage/cinéma vérité levels, like an episode of The Office on speed. However, after the first 20 minutes or so, this becomes less and less frequent, and there’s a lot that works. The actors were a delight, especially Emmanuelle Béart, who joins the list of actors-I-didn’t-know-had-comedic-skills-‘til-Deville-showed-me, and she appears to be having a blast in the part. Deville’s script is solid and there are laughs had due to witty lines as well as appropriately over-the-top performances, physical comedy, and gags aplenty. Some of them work and some don’t, but there are enough shoved in there to create a fun little movie. This was entertaining overall, but the unbalanced, unfocused attention to characters didn’t pay off the way Deville’s occasional, intentionally uneven style typically does. It’s nice to see the director end with another erratic comedy, even if the pieces don’t fit together as smoothly. While I may have liked his last two features more than this, it’s comforting to watch Deville leave behind the deep existential reflection pieces for his final outing, returning to his roots by passionately basking in fun, playful cinema.

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Re: Michel Deville

#47 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 06, 2019 11:38 am

Here’s the fun, mostly animated trailer for L’ours et la poupée, which is in many ways the perfect compliment to the freewheeling spirit of the film

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Re: Michel Deville

#48 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 06, 2019 12:06 pm

For any of our French members, the Cinematheque is coincidentally running a Michel Deville retrospective this month, titled MICHEL DEVILLE OU LES MEMOIRES D'UN "AUDACIEUX" (Besides being a play on the title for Benjamin, this is approximately ‘Michel Deville, or the Memoirs of a “Ballsy Dude”’)

The new issue of Positif has also published a 22 page special retrospective on Deville in their latest issue to coincide with the program, which includes a new piece of writing from Deville. Does anyone know where I can buy a copy? Would make for good translation practice

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Re: Michel Deville

#49 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Mon May 06, 2019 12:34 pm

domino harvey wrote: The new issue of Positif has also published a 22 page special retrospective on Deville in their latest issue to coincide with the program, which includes a new piece of writing from Deville. Does anyone know where I can buy a copy? Would make for good translation practice
I can PM you a scan if you like

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Re: Michel Deville

#50 Post by domino harvey » Mon May 06, 2019 12:41 pm

That would be amazing, thank you!

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