#183 The 400 Blows/Les quatre cents coups

Watched: July 4 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Patrick Auffay

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 39min

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Antoine Doinel (Léaud) is a pretty average kid. He lives with his self-centred mother (Maurier) and nice enough, but very strict, stepfather (Rémy) in a small apartment in Paris. He doesn’t do too well in school and occasionally gets in trouble, although his best friend René (Auffay) seems to be the instigator at least some of the time.

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“I’m thinking we should hire some hookers and then kill some puppies?” “Yeah, I was thinking more like skip school and go to the fair..?”

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After he’s caught skipping school and lying about his mother’s death to cover for it, Antoine runs away from home. It only lasts for a day or so though, but when his teacher later accuses him of plagiarising Balzac, Antoine runs away again. This time for a while, and with more serious consequences.

 

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“Copied” sounds so harsh. I prefer “inspired by.”

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Antoine is misunderstood and/or ignored throughout the film. None of the adults in his life take the time to listen to him, and his actions are very often misinterpreted and harshly punished, such as his homage to Balzac and his return of the stolen typewriter (which, granted, he did steal earlier).

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Considering the irony of being caught returning stolen goods…

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We loved The 400 Blows. While it’s a fairly tragic tale of a talented but misunderstood young boy who gets into all sorts of (quite serious) trouble, it’s not all bleak. We loved the P.E. sequence with the rapidly diminishing student body, the centrifugal carousel, the shrine to Balzac and the kids watching the puppet show.

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Not to mention the extremely disruptive students

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Without spoiling it, the ending is also (possibly) optimistic, with Antoine standing at several thresholds and between two chapters of his life. There are four more films made about the same character played by the same (wonderful) actor, and we’re tempted to make a night of it and watch them all. In about ten years when we’re done with everything on the list

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In case you were wondering, we do bring this amount of energy and enthusiasm to every single film screening. Every. Single. One.

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What we learned: Life is hard for kids. Also, parents have responsibilities beyond feeding their children.

Next time: Special Bonus Post! Oboy oboy oboy!!!

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#163 Mon Oncle

Watched: January 8 2018

Director: Jacques Tati

Starring: Jacques Tati, Adrienne Servantie, Jean-Pierre Zola, Alain Bécourt

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 57min

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Our second encounter with Monsieur Hulot (Tati) was perhaps even more enjoyable than our first. Mon Oncle introduces us to his extended family: his sister, his brother-in-law, and his adorable nephew. Oh, and their dog, of course. Cannot forget the dog.

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So smart in his little waistcoat! Squeee!

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Hulot’s brother-in-law Charles Arpel (Zola) and sister Mme. Arpel (Servantie – who doesn’t even have a name in this) live in their ultra-modern and technologically advanced house Villa Arpel, where everything goes wrong on a regular basis. In addition to their fancy house, they have son Gerard (Bécourt) and the aforementioned dog, both of whom like to play with strays.

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“I’ll tell mother you followed me home. I’m sure she’ll let me keep you!”

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While the Arpel’s try to keep up appearances to their neighbours, colleagues and anyone who should happen to pass by, Gerard is disenfranchised by it all and loves spending time with his unassuming uncle. However, Charles thinks Hulot is a bad influence, and that he should get a proper job, a proper house, and a proper life. Like he has.

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“A proper house with a proper wife in a proper plastic house-cleaning dress and with a proper fish fountain in the front garden. Is that too much to ask?”

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However, when he tries to introduce Hulot to this life, everything goes very wrong. As expected by those of us who watched him on holiday earlier on.

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When even getting a glass of water requires an engineering degree, you know you’ve gone overboard with the tech

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There’s so much in this movie we loved! The opening credits, Mme. Arpel’s plastic house dress, the traffic moving in time with the music, the dogs, the hats (oh, the hats!), the slapstick, the hark back to the silent movie era (especially Modern Times), the trotting secretary, and the garden party populated by the worst kinds of people in the world.

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Did we mention the hats?

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It’s silly and wonderful, and thoroughly entertaining. Have fun!

What we learned: We need to up our hat game!

Next time: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

#162 Elevator to the Gallows/Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Louis Malle

Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Yori Bertin, Georges Poujouly, Jean Wall

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Foreign Legion veteran Julien Tavernier (Ronet) and his lover Florence Carala (Moreau) have a diabolical plan: they will kill Florence’s husband, who just so happens to be Julien’s boss, and make it look like a suicide. The plan is good (you know, in an evil way) and goes smoothly until Julien forgets to get rid of a key piece of evidence.

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Strangely enough, considering his 74-a-day habit, it was not a DNA-riddled cigarette, but an innocent rope

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When Julien tries to retrieve the rope hanging from the murdered man’s window, his timing couldn’t be worse and he ends up stuck in the elevator for the night when the power is turned off.

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“Dammit! I shouldn’t have had that extra croissant for lunch. Now I won’t be able to squeeze out until I’ve worked it off.”

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Florist Véronique (Bertin), who works across the street, and her crook boyfriend Louis (Poujouly) take this opportunity to steal Julien’s car and go on their own spree, which also ends in murder. One in which Julien becomes the main suspect as Louis stole his identity as well as his sweet ride.

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“Fret not, my dear. It’s just a bad day. Who hasn’t had one of those days where they’ve stolen several cars and killed German tourists? It’ll all blow over soon.”

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Meanwhile, Florence wanders the streets of Paris searching for her now MIA lover she thinks she saw driving off in his car with another woman. Her internal dialogue is not happy about this.

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She’s in the ultimate sexy French depression

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We loved everything about this movie. It is visually stunning and fantastically scored with music by Miles Davis. Despite the fact that Julien committed his very own murder, we kept hoping that pretentious douchebag Louis would be arrested to clear Julien of killing the extremely happy German tourist, and the suspense kept us on the edges of our seats.

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That, and Jeanne Moreau’s various depressed faces

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All the characters are horrible people, and yet we were enthralled by the story and very invested in the ending. Definitely a must-watch!

What we learned: Divorce was invented for a reason, people. Use it!

Next time: Mon Oncle (1958)

#150 Paths of Glory

Watched: December 14 2017

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 28min

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During World War I, Colonel Dax’ (Douglas) regiment is given a suicide mission to stroke the ego of General Mireau (Macready); they are tasked with taking over the German position “the Ant Hill.”

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“Sure, we may lose a few men, or about half the regiment, but it’ll be one hell of a feather in the cap of the General if we manage to advance the ten metres! And feathers are cool.”

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After the doomed attack naturally fails, and B company doesn’t even manage to leave the trenches due to heavy casualties, the General’s pride is a casualty in itself and he decides someone must pay. More specifically, 100 soldiers must give their lives.

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“You know what this army’s problem is? Too many goddamn soldiers! With this many men the outcome of the war won’t be exciting at all, so let’s even the odds by killing our own men.”

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A few negotiations later, the number of soldiers to be executed for cowardice has been cut down to three. Dax requests to represent them during the court marshal, but he soon learns that the whole trial is a ridiculous sham. The defendants, Paris (Meeker), Arnaud (Turkel), and Ferol (Carey), have no chance of a fair hearing, and the commanding officers have zero sympathy or understanding for the men in the trenches.

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“And then they claimed shell shock! Shell shock!! The cowards. I tell you, back in my day we were delighted to die for our megalomaniac General. Young men nowadays…”

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We cannot believe we haven’t seen Paths of Glory before! We have, of course, been aware of it, but never watched it despite our undying love for Kubrick’s other anti-war masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (1964). We now have a new favourite.

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Not only because Kirk Douglas is super-heroic through most of it. But it doesn’t hurt.

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The absurdity of warfare in Paths of Glory is similar to what we see in Dr. Strangelove, but even more frustrating and sad; there’s humour here too, but not as much as in the later film. Also, this film is based on a true event, which adds frustration and sadness rather than humour and levity…

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Speaking of real events, there are more than a few parallels to the witch trials during the Inquisition

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Corruption, pride, fear, ambition, power, and absolutely no justice – Paths of Glory is our new favourite World War I film, for sure. We loved the big scale battle scenes and the small scale human drama; the performances and the social commentary. Love, love, love.

What we learned: The military is a silly and dangerous place.

Next time: Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space (1957)

#148 Funny Face

Watched: November 26 2017

Director: Stanley Donen

Starring: Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson, Michel Auclair

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Dick Avery (Astaire), fashion photographer, bursts into the life of intellectual book seller Jo Stockton (Hepburn) with an impromptu photo shoot in her shop. Fashion editor (and personal hero) Maggie Prescott (Thompson) shuts her out of her shop for being a nuisance, but Dick manages to convince the brilliant lady to make Jo her new “Quality girl” and model.

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Thus starts the arduous task of making a glamorous model out of this hideous beast

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Dick talks the reluctant Jo into the job by promising her a trip to Paris – her biggest dream is to travel to the French capital to hear her personal hero professor Emile Flostre (Auclair) talk. He is the inventor of empathicalism, a philosophy Jo follows and Dick ridicules.

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“You silly girl! Stop trying to think and put on a pretty dress!”

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They go to Paris, Jo blossoms into a great model, Dick and Jo fall in love (for some reason), Jo gets to meet her hero (which the adage tells us never to do, and we learn why), and Maggie and Dick get to go undercover as Floridian singers to great success. Also, there are complications and conflicts, as there should be.

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Even Parisian rain can be endured with Givenchy dresses and colourful balloons

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We’re slightly conflicted over Funny Face. There is so much about it we love: the colours, the musical numbers, the sets, the costumes, the choreography, Maggie Prescott, Audrey Hepburn’s slightly clumsy elegance, the fact that she got to sing her own songs, and generally the overall feel of the entire film.

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How can you NOT love this?

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What we don’t quite get is the romance at the centre. It’s not so much the age difference, although 30 years is a lot (and we’re not strangers to the concept). It’s mainly Dick’s constant treatment of Jo as if she’s just a silly little girl incapable of thought and of seeing the real intentions of her hero. He berates and controls her, and he tries to change her priorities to make her more like the fashionistas he works with.

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Then again, who wouldn’t be persuaded to become a model if it meant wearing dresses like this?

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It feels a bit as if he might be better off finding someone else if he wants to change her that much. And that she would be happier with someone who at least supported her intellectual pursuits. We sort of thought Maggie and Dick would have been a better couple. But perhaps that’s just us.

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They do have amazing chemistry!

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Overall, we like the film, but the romance feels very dated unless it’s supposed to be a bit uncomfortable. The musical numbers and the gorgeous cinematography sort of makes up for it though. Sort of.

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It made us want to dance in sordid, French night clubs with men in striped shirts for sure

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What we learned: Think pink! Also, men in the fashion industry are presumably a lot less superficial than academics and philosophers.

Next time: Kanal (1957)

#132 Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes

Watched: September 3 2017

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Jules Dassin, Marie Sabouret, Marcel Lupovici, Magali Noël

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Tony le Stéphanois (Servais) is a retired crook with health problems who just spent five years in prison after taking the fall for friend Jo (Möhner). The two meet mutual friend Mario (Manuel) for coffee and crime planning, although Tony is getting too old for this shit.

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Guess which one has expressed some doubt about the scheme

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Tony respectfully declines, but when he learns ex-girlfriend Mado (Sabouret) is back in town and smooching it up with gangster Grutter (Lupovici) he signs up, after giving her a savage beating.

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The first look at Tony’s dark side. And trust us – it’s dark!

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The trio bring in Italian safe cracker César (Dassin) and start planning the perfect heist – the nighttime robbery of a jewellery shop. The crime itself goes off (almost) without a hitch, until César can’t help himself but steal an extra piece of jewellery for his lover Viviane (Noël).

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After all that planning and suspense, a guy thinking with his dick screws it up. Men just aren’t cut out for this kind of work.

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Grutter figures out who’s behind the incredible heist and comes after them. As he threatens Jo’s family, Tony utilizes his dark side for good and goes after the ruthless gangster.

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Pictured: not a guy you want to mess with

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Rififi is basically the ultimate heist movie; it is stylish and cool with a great cast of characters and an extremely exciting robbery. We absolutely loved the song and dance routine with the silhouettes, as well as the planning phase. However, the long silent scene during the robbery, which is probably the longest silent part of a film that’s not a pre-talkie we’ve ever seen, was by far our favourite. So suspenseful!

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There’s just so much style in this film!

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Also, we were giddily happy to see that the decorative lampshade finally served a purpose. It’s like all the Noirs we’ve watched so far have been leading up to this moment. What a payoff.

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To the right: multi-purpose decorative lamp. Finally!

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What we learned: How much work actually goes into a perfect crime. Also, don’t stray from the plan and get greedy. Or think with your dick.

Next time: The Big Combo (1955)

#128 Diabolique/Les diaboliques

Watched: August 7 2017

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 57min

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Christina Delassalle (Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (Signoret) are colleagues at a boarding school for boys somewhere in France, but that’s not all they have in common. They are also involved with the same man – Christina’s tyrannical bastard of a husband Michel (Meurisse).

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“It’s always more fun to share with everyone”

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Michel does not only mistreat his poorly (but wealthy) wife – he is also abusive to his mistress and the children in the school. Fed up with him, Nicole concocts a murderous plan to rid the two women of their shared lover. Christina is hesitant at first, but after her husband humiliates her and rapes her, she has finally been pushed too far.

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Not what most men have in mind when they picture being bathed by two women

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They go through with their plan, but the already mentally and physically fragile wife is quickly deteriorating from the stress and the guilt. Then, the body disappears, freaky stuff starts happening and things turn creepy.

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Artist’s representation of us watching this film

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Diabolique is very, very creepy and suspenseful. Michel is extremely unlikable and we’ve never wanted two people to get away with murder more than in this case. This film kept us guessing to the end (although we had a theory which turned out to be spot on) and there are a lot of exciting twists and turns in the plot.

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The look of a woman mentally preparing for murder

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We won’t say much more as we do not want to spoil this gem for anyone, but if you haven’t seen it, it should go to the top of your to-watch list. So good.

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What we learned: If you’re going to murder someone, make sure you know how to play it cool.

Next time: It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

#115 M. Hulot’s Holiday/Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot

Watched: June 10 2017

Director: Jacques Tati

Starring: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Micheline Rolla, Valentine Camax

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 23min

Mr Hulot's Holiday

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It’s vacation time in France, and everyone (in the upper middle classes) is getting on a train to sunny beaches. Headed the same way is a run down disaster of a car, threatening the peace of the holiday makers. An ill wind blows into the hotel – Monsieur Hulot (Tati), an OCD weirdo who’s very kind to animals, approaches.

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“Bonjour, mon ami. C’est moi! Croissant, pantalon, poo poo la la!”

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Hulot, despite being a polite and well meaning character, has a tendency to exacerbate any problematic situation he gets himself into, of which there are many. Mainly because he causes them in the first place, such as unwittingly crashing a funeral, although often technology also plays a part.

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The cars in this are practically lethal

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M. Hulot’s Holiday is basically a silent slapstick comedy, 30 years after they were in vogue. It has lots of silly gags and characters and is just a jolly good time. Hulot himself could have been really annoying, but he’s oddly endearing (something we personally feel Rowan Atkinson failed to achieve with his similar character Mr Bean decades later, although we understand that may be a controversial statement).

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“Just out for a stroll. Don’t mind me.”

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This film is so, so silly and fun, with lots of nods to earlier silent comedy geniuses and the tradition of mime and physical theatre. In addition, there’s a series of eccentric supporting character, such as the British tennis referee and poor Arthur. All together, they make a hilarious experience for any comedy fan. Check it out!

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We’ll just leave you with this image, completely out of context

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What we learned: The best intentions can still lead to disaster. Also, you don’t need a lot of dialogue to make people laugh.

Next time: The Band Wagon (1953)

#106 An American in Paris

Watched: May 14 2017

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guétary, Nina Foch

Year: 1951

Runtime: 1h 53min

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An American in Paris marks a return to the wonderful world of musicals, and it’s a great one at that. Jerry Mulligan (Kelly), an American ex-soldier and aspiring painter, has taken up residence in Paris after the war ended. While his accommodations are small, IKEA has nothing on this guy’s smart living solutions, and he spends his time sleeping, painting and trying to sell his work in the streets of the city.

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His low sales numbers might be attributed to him berating and insulting potential customers

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He also spends time with his pianist neighbour Adam Cook (Levant) and the latter’s associate, singer Henri Baurel (Guétary), and together the three dance with adorable old ladies and talk about their lack of success. In between all these fine activities, Jerry also makes time to teach local kids English through the medium of song and dance.

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An elaborate dance routine really is the only way to teach kids these days

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Mulligan finds himself a sugar mama in Milo Roberts (Foch) who promises to make him a household name, but falls in love with Lise Bouvier (Caron) who, unbeknownst to Jerry, is already engaged to marry Henri. Complications ensue, but so too do magnificent dance numbers.

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Making the most out of the fact that it was filmed in colour

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There are so many great scenes in this film, such as the introduction of Lise with the different sides to her shown through dance, the old lady Kelly dances with in the café, and of course the grand finale which we cannot even begin to describe. We have an affinity for musicals, especially ones with great dance numbers, and so this one was right up our alley.

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We also have a weakness for serial killer thrillers, so were ever so slightly disappointed when they both survived their first date by the river in the fog…

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The story itself is fine, although it might just be an excuse to throw in some truly excellent dance scenes. That hardly matters though because the musical scenes are well worth the ticket price alone (in our case, borrowing a free DVD at the library – thank you social democracy!), and we’ve found new ways to enjoy another favourite pastime – reading books.

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It really is the only way to read

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…except for this way, of course

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If you like dancing, music, Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, romance, snarky pianists, fantastic costumes, clever solutions to small living spaces, or just interesting new ways of doing everyday activities, look no further than An American in Paris. It really does have it all.

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Yes, fountain lovers – there’s even something in there for you

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What we learned: When you ain’t got any money it takes on a curious significance.

Next time: Strangers on a Train (1951)