Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meandering but that's the point: Revisiting SLACKER

I recently re-watched Richard Linklater's 1991 debut SLACKER, a thoughtful, aimless and bold free associating take on cinematic storytelling or how to break the conventional rules of storytelling ala Godard style. Slacker goes from character to character, all of whom talk at great lengths about their theories of life, art, conspiracies, politics, love and even how The Smurfs were a parable about communism and Krishna.

Linklater covers a small landscape of Austin, Texas in the late 80s when he shot this film. The people you meet in this film can be labelled any which way: hippies, bohemians, freaks, weirdos, loners, mental cases but the term slacker is the term Linklater prefers and he is in intent on applying it in a positive way despite the word's negative and dismissive connitation.

In his audio commentary, he states that his characters, even though you only see them fleetingly, are active people full of energy and purpose. To him, a slacker is defined by a person whose goals and sense of being aren't determined by the conventional and expected ways of living--the 9-5 job you hate but need, keeping your outspoken and odds beliefs to yourself. The characters aren't ashamed or embarrassed to share their fears and strong beliefs with some stranger on the street. They have a sense of pride in their own neurosis. "I may live badly, but at least I don't have to *work* to do it." says a footloose hitchiker.

One memorable scene has a young woman run into some friends on a street corner and proceed to show off a papsmear that supposedly belonged to Madonna. In his commentary, Linklater says a friend remarked to him that the future of pornography would be celebrity papsmears.

The remarkable thing about Linklater's writing and directing approach with SLACKER is his lack of judgement for the people on screen. He is almost calling out anybody who would be quick to judge or dismiss these characters, despite only being on screen for a few minutes. Their odd behaviour can obviously be off-putting but it isn't boring and it's certainly revealing of certain human nature. SLACKER contains walking, talking, embodied bloggers before the internet inspired some of these folk off the streets and onto their laptops in a basement.

Footnote: The great Criterion DVD release of Slacker contains deleted scenes, a reunion video of the cast and crew, Linklater's first feature, shot on Super8 entitled IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO LEARN HOW TO PLOW BY READING BOOKS.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Le Voyou

The film opens with a flashing neon sign in the background underneath a bridge that reads "VOYOU" in big red letters. Le Voyou meaning "the thug". Four well dressed men stand in the foreground with their hands up. A 1920s vintage car passes behind them and machine gun fire mows them all down. The car spins around in a circle and gangsters pile out carrying machine guns. Sexy women in showgirl outfits step out along with a black man in a long white suit and purple hat. They jump into a dance number in which the man sings about his life of crime for which he must pay dearly for. It's a catchy theme song that highlights a beautiful score by Francis Lai.

This turns out to be a film within the actual film that two characters sit in a cinema and watch. It comically counteracts the serious action that's about to be unravelled in the movie.

LE VOYOU, known in North America as THE CROOK is a 1970 film directed by Claude LeLouch (A Man and a Woman) The trailer announces that this is LeLouch's own particular take on crime, and it truly is. When I purchased this film on DVD, I was expecting a French take on something like John Boorman's POINT BLANK (1967) instead LE VOYOU is a playful, witty and unpredicatable crime caper with the underrated Jean Louis Trintignant (The Great Silence) the wonderful sad faced actor, in the title role. He plays Simon, a focused and intense criminal who does whatever it takes to elude capture from the authorities and survive. After escaping from prison, he takes advantage of an old female friend by using her apartment as a safe house. He is charming but cold and calculating. He has hidden away 100,000 francs from a previous job and he is determined to intercept it without interference from the cops.

Simon reunites with his ex-wife (the beautiful Daniele Delorme). They team up on a plan to scam a banker and his family in which they kidnap their son for one million in ransom. The caper pays off but not without complications. The story concludes with our anti-hero keeping himself several steps ahead of everyone and finally irony piles upon more irony in a crafty and funny conclusion.

That's all I will describe of the plot, which unfolds with great surprises, humor and inspired storytelling to compliment the dark nature of the character and his actions. Simon shows tenderness to his child and ex-wife, who is complicit in his illegal deeds. Despite his relentless intensity, it's kind of easy to like Simon since he falls under the thief with a heard of gold category. The child they kidnap thinks he's spending time with Santa--Delorme dressed as Ol' Saint Nick.

Trintignant is a great actor. See him in his mute performance as a gunslinger wanting vengeance against Klaus Kinski in the great spaghetti western THE GREAT SILENCE (1968) He also gave a wonderful performance in Bernardo Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST (1970) When people think of French new wave cinema, they think of Jean Paul Belmondo or Alain Delon. Tringinant is under appreciated in my opinion. THE CROOK is a unsung gem of international crime cinema and a perfect example of his striking screen prescence.