Above: the quicksilver life caught in an instant, Gérard Depardieu and, in the hazy mirror, Sophie Marceau.
Giant steps are being taken in the English-speaking cinema world to help us poor audiences finally get to see the many, many masterpieces of human vivacity and emotion created by French director Maurice Pialat. That the work is currently being done over the pond by The Masters of Cinema
DVD company in Region 2 and not here in the U.S. in our neglected region is a blessing obviously mixed but optimistic: the films look great, and this is the only place we will get to see them subtitled in English. (Note that two amazing films by Pialat, À nos amours
, and Van Gogh
, are available in handsome R1 DVDs.) So rejoice, if also in the hope that MoC is not only bringing these films closer and closer to American audiences, but that their appearance in an English-language market will finally bring Pialat the recognition over here that he deserves, that of one of the greatest of filmmakers.
First in the forthcoming deluge of wonderful releases in MoC's series is L’Enfance-nue
(Naked Childhood), the only possible film that could follow and stand up to Truffaut's 400 Blows
(and served, in a magnificent double feature, as an invigorating counter-point to Jean Eustache's Mes petites amoureuses
in the recent traveling Eustache retro). But more idiosyncratic—if one could possibly think of comparing Pialat's sharp-edged, unkempt films by which is more idiosyncratic than its raw brethren—is the second release, 1985's Police
, scripted in part by Catherine Breillat and "confined" by the genre and vocation implied by the title. I really cannot do better justice to the film than to link to Senses of Cinema
by Robert Keser on the film. Keser captures Pialat's energy in his own critical prose, in an excerpt from the article's opening:
Police opens with the jolting energy of a bull charging out of the gate, using sheer pent-up momentum to sustain its first hour’s torrent of intensely verbal and physical confrontations. The director fills the screen with entrances and exits and dislocations, as drug squad detectives shout questions to bully their arrestees, while the latter blithely and transparently lie, yet no one seems to change much for all the station house tumult."
He points out what seems quite obvious after watching the film, that the police setting and even the plot in general is an arbitrary, if not fundamentally commercial concern and starting point, used to give a lifestyle routine to a number of characters (principally played by Gérard Depardieu and a very young Sophie Marceau), smoothly express their desires and sadnesses, and then let them interact in an amorphous, unstable, but somehow barely circulating milieu, much like the families that center the settings of À nos amours or L’Enfance nue.
It was Police's more conventional setting that helped me wrap my mind around the startling pleasures and pains of the two Pialat's I had seen previous to it. The film surprisingly connected in my mind this most brusque and electric of directors to contemporary filmmakers I like very much, such as Hong Sang-soo and Hou Hsiao-hsien (disciples of Ozu, both), in that all found their stories of intense emotion in the banality of life. But Pialat's work is not in the same contemplative vein as those two. Through an immersion in regular human movements (in life but also in gesture), stories, and settings, and with a style that is abrasive in its jagged, semi-elliptical cutting and the constant, non-bravura camera movement, Pialat is able to pin-point and reveal with a paradoxical subtlety the extreme movements, suppressions, and eruptions of emotions between people. Like Hou and Hong before him, Pialat's films have been notoriously difficult for American audiences to see on DVD, and these two releases are a significant towards English-language audiences having the chance to catch hold of the lightening-on-film that is the cinema of Maurice Pialat.