Soldier of Orange (1977)
The first Dutch movie (I think) to have made its way into the record here, made in the densely plotted novelistic style that was prevalent in Europe at the time. It is a style that I like whenever and wherever it recurs. I also like the story here (as a cinematic device), which is about a group of friends who formed at university in 1938 and whose schooldays were interrupted by the Nazi takeover of the Netherlands in May of 1940, after which the history of their youths and friendships play out in the arena of World War and occupation. With the exception of the main character every one of the group dies (this is not a huge surprise in any World War II movie about young men), so the film has that poignant doomed and beautiful youth aspect going for it as well. Still, unlike in other Nazi movies, these guys are not, or at least do not come off as, completely powerless victims who are humiliated and murdered without having been able to assert any agency on their own parts. Most of them die as a result of some manner of resistance or at least trying to escape. There is one who turns collaborator (and therefore is working directly against his friends) when his underground activities are discovered. There is another who ends up with the German army in Russia, though I think we are supposed to believe that he is not really into the war and the Nazis and so on. The dangers they undergo are leavened with interludes of romance, sex, riding motorcycles and attending galas while wearing tuxedos, elegant European coffee and liqueur-drinking and educated conversation. This last sentence sounds flippant, but it accounts for much of the appeal of the movie.
The opening scene takes place at the Dutch equivalent of a fraternity house rush. To people like myself who have not undergone this particular trial of male bonding and initiation, the torments and physical abuses that are inflicted on the new pledges seem on the surface little less humiliating and excessive even than what we know is coming in the war. You would think that nothing is worth enduring this hazing, certainly not gaining admission to a society of sadistic jerks who treat you as subhuman scum for the first six months or whatever that you know them. However, the main character (played by Rutger Hauer in what would be his breakout role) eagerly submits to this and the chief tormenter and president of the secret society, who in the first scene you believe to be about the most horrible person in the world, a soul brother of Hitler himself, eventually becomes his closest friend and comrade in war and everything else. I assume the mayhem and violence of this first scene in the dinner club is supposed to refer in some way to the much greater mayhem and violence of the war years which follow. One of the strengths of this movie for me is its portrayal of friendship among men who have some traditional masculinity and competitive drive but also have refinement and intelligence. I largely missed out on this in my own life, and certainly our society on the whole suffers from the lack of it. So I find it very attractive when it is depicted in books and movies.
Netflix Availability: You can "save" it, which means that they acknowledge that it exists, but that they don't actually have it. Availability is unknown. I ordered a copy on VHS. When I have more time I would like to see it again.
Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie) (1979)
Jean-Luc Godard is one of the great men of our age in the arts, so great that it clearly requires one not only to be of genius level intelligence but almost devastatingly cool to really even follow his movies, let alone get what is really going on in them. I am forty-four and I don't really have much idea of how to watch or what to take from his movies. Effusive and strident and confidently knowing as they are, I don't find professional critics to be particularly helpful either with regard to Godard either. With other movies you can read something pointed out in a review and it strikes you as just so, and perhaps you even wonder how you were so dull as not to have picked up on it. But most Godard reviews, especially the deeper you go into his career, are not convincing or illuminating in this way at all. I have no more sense of what the film is supposed to be about or wherein its real claim to greatness lies after reading one than I did before. There is supposedly all of this incredible, innovative, challenging greatness, yet whatever it is defies persuasive articulation, and does not affect a discernible influence on those who supposedly grasp it other than perhaps to accentuate already obnoxious tendencies (which would make sense, because what I can make out of Godard's general worldview would seem to indicate a singularly obnoxious person in his core). I'm not saying it isn't there. Obviously it is there. Perhaps in time I will be able to develop some sense of the man's mind, what he most deeply cares about and sees about him. I do think I am starting to get somewhere in this vein with Bunuel. Not at the level of intellect of course, but of recognizing feelings and symbols and themes that he favors.
What do I make of Sauve Qui Peut? By this point it has been two weeks since I saw it and it is slipping away from me. Prostitution is a theme, so to speak, running through it, and the prostitutes, to my surprise are treated rather brusquely, given sharp orders to do this or that. I think this is because in American movies the person using these services is usually some kind of nerd who is terrified of the prostitute because of her superior experience and knowledge of harder men. But in this there is no respect towards the sex worker as a person at all, she is merely a body. Most of the men in the movie are pretty vulgar as a rule, though one could say Godard is simply showing them as they essentially are, with the facade of any kind of social niceties stripped away. Beautiful women sit in large windowsills opened to let in the country air while languidly perusing books or doing writing of some kind or another (this was reminiscent of Celine and Julie Go Boating, another 70s French classic). There is a suave-looking character named Godard, who is played by another actor however. Godard is divorced and has a twelve year old daughter to whom he seems reasonably well-intentioned in the way a suave French creative type would be, but is probably a little aloof. The world in general is a cold place if you were hoping to develop closeness with other people. The film is great to look at. Apart from the various genius and coolness that only Godard could have contributed to its outcome, the 70s in Continental Western Europe (this was apparently shot in Switzerland) seem on film at least like a pretty great time to have been there, as far as culture, girls, cheap food and lodging and so on.
Netflix Availability: No. This has not been released in any form in the US as far as I can see. I shelled out for a Korean-made DVD (it did have English subtitles), and I will, I hope, have occasion to study this masterpiece again at some point in the future. Another addition to the ever-growing list of highly rated French movies from 1974-1990 that are not readily available in this country.