Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

(Denis Heroux, 1975)
As a Brel virgin, I come to this film seeking enlightenment. He certainly can write him a melody, and several of these songs really are gorgeous. But I could hum you not one of them a day later, and as an unapologetic rock and roll guy I note that he can't come near a fast tempo without getting all rinkydink and ironically nostalgic. And while his own walk-ons suggest something a little less cloying, the film's interpretations cast his lyrics as the voice of the knowing observer, watching the cruel ironies of life unfold at a measured, mournful distance. This either works or it doesn't, and while the singing soldier statue and lovesick cabbie resonated, the one about old people struck me as a disgustingly gloppy tipping point. One reason the statue was an appropriate conceit is that this is one static piece of filmmaking - not only is it episodic, but the episodes themselves are unmoving tableaux which might make brilliant Kinescopes but grow exhausting when piled on top of each other. Another reason is that of the three apt and skilled singers who take center stage, Mort Shuman is the only one with experience or ability as a screen performer. And the vulgarly 'artistic' procession of quaint cafes, cruel ladies of the night and world wars evokes a tourist brochure of Paris rather than the genuine article.

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