1995 Project: La Ceremonie, Casino, Dead Man

dead man

Just one week before the 1995 Project is over…

laceremonieposterLa Cérémonie (directed by Claude Chabrol)
Chabrol was one of the pioneers of the French New Wave, as important a movement as any in cinema history. I must admit I was completely unfamiliar with his work before watching this movie. Based only on this movie, he strikes me as a very European director, and not necessarily as cinematically revolutionary as Godard or Truffaut. La Cérémonie fits very well into the tradition of European (particularly french) dramas that deal with class tensions brewing. Sandrine Bonnaire stars as a newly hired maid at a country estate, and Isabelle Huppert is the radical young woman who sparks her standing up to the family she works for.

It’s a surprisingly uneventful movie as a thriller, and cold as a romance. It is something much more opaque, and that’s a good thing. It’s interesting not knowing exactly what side Chabrol is on. It’s fun to wonder whether this is a story about social justice, bourgeois fears, or young passionate romance. The disappointing part comes in the characters’ psychology which is too opaque to give us enough clues as to what is going on. Bonnaire and Huppert do a great job, but as much as I want to dissect the movie, I don’t think it gives me the necessary tools to do so.

casinoposterCasino (directed by Martin Scorsese)
Time for an unpopular opinion: I think Scorsese might be the most overrated director that has ever lived. That might be a little extreme, but the truth is most of his movies don’t do much for me. This is particularly true when we talk about what I call his “success and excess” trilogy: Goodfellas, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street, a triumvirate that suffers from the same ailments while looking at the luxurious corruption of the American dream through the prism of organized crime and the stock exchange.

The biggest flaw with these movies is that you don’t really need to see them to know what they’re all about. They take three hours to make the most obvious and predictable points you could make about the kind of characters they are depicting. There is nothing the movie tells me that I didn’t know it was going to tell me before watching it. In the case of Casino in particular, I don’t think there is any point in the movie that hasn’t either been made before, or made in a better way since. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci do solid work, and some sequences are fun, but the best movie about Las Vegas released in 1995 is obviously Showgirls

Also, the way Don Rickles is underutilized in this movie is a crime.

deadmanposterDead Man (directed by Jim Jarmusch)
Sometime around the second half of the twentieth century, Hollywood stopped producing western en masse. That’s the moment when every western made by an American director became a piece of commentary not only on the cowboy genre, but on the history of America as a whole. Of all these revisionist westerns, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man offers the most unique take on the history of America and the frontier of the wild west. Johnny Depp stars as an accountant from Cleveland who travels out west to accept a job that is not being offered, become an accidental outlaw, and be chased through the wilderness until he finds his way to the next life.

Aided by beautiful black and white cinematography by Robby Müller and an anachronistic guitar score by Neil Young, Jarmusch turns the Old West into a land of contemporary sensibilities, of rough men who are as aware about mundane life and celebrity as the audience watching. The most obvious point of comparison is Pilgrim’s Progress -taking into account the main character is named William Blake- but does this journey really lead anywhere? This is a fatalistic, anachronistic, and darkly hilarious movie. Needless to say, the movie ends with death, but it is neither tragic nor heavenly. Jarmusch loves to make movies about empty lives. In this case, he made a movie about an empty country.

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