film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

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This was not a film I could watch lightly. It was meaty and complex, and I had to figure a good deal out; most of the film is nothing but conversations between our leads, a pair of unnamed lovers who’ve met by chance in the city of Hiroshima, and several sequences illustrating some of the woman’s thoughts or memories, and that’s it. I was captivated enough to want to figure things out, however.

And some of the imagery is just plain gorgeous regardless. The opening sequence features shots of our leads embracing (lovemaking is implied, but not graphically depicted) as ash falls on their bodies, interspersed with recreations or still shots of newsreel footage from the aftermath of the U.S. nuclear attack on Hiroshima. All we hear is the couple’s voices – “She” (Emmanuelle Riva) speaks of all the things she saw in the attack on Hiroshima, or in the museum about the attacks, claiming she saw “Iron, burned and twisted…. a bouquet of bottle caps…photographs and reconstructions, for lack of anything else…” But “He” (Eiji Okada) keeps interrupting Her: “you didn’t see that.” “You never saw that.” “You saw nothing, you weren’t there.” And all the while, we flip from clips showing exactly what She is describing, to clips of their bare skin, Her fingers gripping His back and both sparkling with either sweat or radioactive ash.

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Things do settle down and get a bit more linear after this, and gradually we learn that they’ve effectively just met for a hookup; She is a French actress in town shooting a film, which She only describes as “an international movie about peace”, while He is an architect who’d met Her in a bar the previous night. He wants to see Her again; but She is flying home to Paris the next day. Still, something about their encounter hit them both hard, so when He surprises Her on set that afternoon, after She’s wrapped, She leaves to spend Her final hours in Hiroshima with Him. And as their conversation grows more intimate, we learn just how impossible any future romance might be between them – both are married to other people, for one thing, but She is also carrying a very heavy burden of memory, the ghost of another romance from even earlier in Her past, during the Second World War. And Her tale, when we finally get the whole story – told painfully and piecemeal in several separate anecdotes throughout – is tragic and heartbreaking, but even more heartbreaking is how She has clearly been ruminating over it for several years, how it has shackled Her and kept Her from another genuine connection before this – and how that is partly Her own fault.

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My biggest complaint, however, is that we don’t do as much of a deep dive into His past. He also suffered loss from the war, just as She did (I mean, He’s from Hiroshima, so that doesn’t come as that much of a surprise) – but He has made His peace with that pain. He is strong enough to consider fostering some kind of ongoing connection with Her, but ultimately realizes that She isn’t going to be able to do that. That’s a perfectly valid disconnect – hell, I can probably chalk a couple of my own breakups up to a similar dynamic. But the problem is that as far as the film goes, He is so at peace with His past that it barely comes up. The revelation of His own wartime tragedy is such a fleeting thing that I actually missed it; I even went back and re-watched a couple scenes after I read about that after the fact, in search of the moment where He told Her His story, but couldn’t find it. And I felt cheated, and I felt a bit like He was cheated as well – especially since this then means that this film, which ostensibly uses Hiroshima as a framing device, becomes the tale of a tragic love story from rural France instead.

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It’s always possible He may not really be recovered after all. At the time of this film, it would have been about 14 years after the attack – He might very well be deliberately Not Thinking About Things as a coping mechanism because He’s not ready. I was an eyewitness to the 9/11 attacks, and there are some memories from that day which I know that I have deliberately pushed to the back of my mind all “nope, not gonna go there” – and His own losses in the Hiroshima attacks were several orders of magnitude more personal than what I faced that day. However, this is all speculation – there is simply not enough to go on in the film to suggest whether this might be the case, and that in itself is my complaint.

But like Him, I still want to dig down and know more about the both of them, and the strong connection They both enjoyed and the mammoth obstacles which are ultimately tearing them apart again.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Ride Lonesome (1959)

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This was a little Western that snuck up and surprised me. It’s short, and I hadn’t heard of any of the actors save for James Coburn (making his debut in a smaller supporting role). But it’s a lean story that cuts to the chase, and doesn’t get bogged down in any of the tropes about Westerns I’ve disliked in the past.

Randolph Scott stars as “Ben Brigade”, a bounty hunter we first meet just as he is catching up with his latest quarry, Billy John (James Best), who’s wanted for murder in Santa Cruz. Billy isn’t too keen on turning himself in, but ultimately comes quietly, asking one of his companions to alert his brother Frank before they set off. The pair stop in at a stagecoach station en route and meet outlaw Sam Boone (Pernell Robert) and his partner Whit (James Coburn), both of whom seem friendly enough until a woman bursts out with a gun drawn on them both. This is Carrie Lane (Karen Steele) – the wife of the station master who’s been trying to hold down the station while her husband is away on an errand. And no, she doesn’t know Boone or Whit, they just showed up and she wants them gone. Brigade quickly figures out that Boone and Whit have turned up to try to rob the next coach – just as Boone and Whit are figuring out that Brigade is traveling with Billy John, and they are also interested in the bounty. Good thing, too, since the next coach had been attacked by warriors from the Mescalero tribe and contained only dead passengers when it arrived. Carrie Lane soon learns the Mescaleros have killed her husband as well; so when Brigade sets off with Billy John the next day, she joins in with Boone and Whit and tags along.

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As they travel, Boone repeatedly tells Brigade that he’s playing nice for now, since it looks like Brigade can help the party get safely to Santa Cruz – but he also has every intention of fighting Brigade for Billy once they arrive and claiming the bounty himself. Brigade doesn’t seem too bothered by this. ….In fact, Brigade seems to be a little too chill. Almost like he’s taking his time and drawing out the trip. Even when Whit spots that Billy’s brother Frank is on their tale, Brigade doesn’t speed up. Why, it’s almost like Brigade wants Frank to catch up….what’s going on with that?

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You do learn what’s going on with that, and it’s best that I not share. You also learn who gets custody of Billy by the end – and it’s a satisfying ending, with everyone getting what they really wanted all along. Well – almost everyone; Carrie is kind of a new widow adrift, but in her (unfortunately brief) role we’ve learned she’s a pretty tough cookie and we’re confident she’ll be okay. Carrie’s characterization is possibly the biggest complaint I had about that – director Budd Boetticher relegates her to eye candy in several shots, showing her in profile so as to emphasize her…physique. Boone and Whit both indulge in long lingering studies of her form. But – they keep their distance and keep their hands to themselves, fortunately, and usually a glare from Carrie is enough to make the boys back off and turn away.

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The movie also never really forgets she is a recent widow – there is no scene where she falls into anyone’s arms asking for comfort or breaks down into a crying jag. She’s holding everyone at arms’ length – at one point she learns Brigade is a widower himself, and seems to recognize him as a kindred spirit rather than a potential new husband. She’s also not that interested in Boone or Whit either. And rather than being the helpless damsel in the film’s various chase scenes or shootouts, she’s joining in the fray with her own rifle and manages to take down a couple of the team’s attackers herself. Brigade also comes across as a stereotypical “taciturn lone gunman”, kind of like Shane – but unlike with Shane, you do learn his backstory, and you learn that his silence is strategic (if Boone or Whit don’t know about what his plan is, they can’t try to stop him, after all).

So it’s a Western which avoids a lot of the tropes I didn’t like, the characters all have motivations that make sense, and it’s a neat quick little story. I was pleasantly surprised.