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It’s summer so naturally I’ve been watching a lot of films. Now there are three things I’ve planned on doing this summer or rather three film-makers I wanted to focus on in particular. Those are Luis Buñuel, Jean-Pierre Melville and Alfred Hitchcock. Now its fairly easy to get hold of Hitchcock’s films (well most of them anyway) but finding films by Buñuel and Melville can be a bit of a challenge unless you try to order them over the internet. However, the library in my school happens to have a couple of films by these two directors. Try and imagine my excitement. I started with Buñuel. I watched The Milky Way, a surrealist ‘road movie’ satirizing religion which Buñuel calls the first in his ‘search for truth’ trilogy (which also includes The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty). After that I watched That Obscure Object of Desire which I believe was his last film in 1977 about a wealthy old man who becomes obsessed over a mysterious young women. One thing to note about this film is that it uses two actresses for the character of the young women Conchita, the film switches between the two actresses between scenes and sometimes even in the same scene. According to the films Wikipedia page-

”In his autobiography, My Last Sigh (1983), Buñuel explains (pp. 46-47) the decision to use two actresses to play Conchita:

In 1977, in Madrid, when I was in despair after a tempestuous argument with an actress who’d brought the shooting of That Obscure Object of Desire to a halt, the producer, Serge Silberman, decided to abandon the film altogether. The considerable financial loss was depressing us both until one evening, when we were drowning our sorrows in a bar, I suddenly had the idea (after two dry martinis) of using two actresses in the same role, a tactic that had never been tried before. Although I made the suggestion as a joke, Silberman loved it, and the film was saved.”
If I remember correctly I think the next film I watched was The Phantom of Liberty which I have to say is my favourite. I don’t think I have ever seen a film before with such a unique narrative structure which is on the fence between being experimental and mainstream. The entire film is essentially a number of short stories linked together by a minor character from the previous story and on top of that there is also a fair amount of surrealism which makes it even more fun to watch. The last film of his I watched was The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie which is about a bunch of upper-class people being  continually interrupted while trying to have dinner together. This one is probably his most famous film and many people have also said it to be his most accessible. I think that after watching The Phantom of Liberty, this one feels a bit tame but I’m sure if had I seen Bourgeoisie first and then went on to see The Phantom of Liberty it would have been a better experience because the trilogy builds to this great finale with Liberty. 
My second director on the list was Jean-Pierre Melville who was an independent French film-maker now famous for his minimalistic gangster dramas and a number of French Resistance films. I started with his last film, Un Flic about a detective played by Alain Delon trying to catch a gang of bank robbers which he directed in 1972, a year before his death in 1973. Then I saw  L’armée des ombres, his widely acclaimed French Resistance film which I enjoyed much more than Un Flic. After watching these two films, I was starting to really get to grips with the style of Melville. To go from the exuberance of a week of watching and re-watching Luis Buñuel films to the bleak minimalistic films of Melville with there long takes, little dialogue and distinctly cold colour palette, it takes a little while to adjust yourself. The next film I saw was Les Doulos, a brilliant film-noir gangster film with great performances from Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani, and beautiful film-noir style cinematography with very interesting use of shadows and tracking shots. The following film I watched was Le Cercle Rouge which is a fantastic gangster-heist film with Alain Delon. John Woo in his essay on the film for its Criterion Collection DVD release said that ‘Le cercle rouge is a classic gangster film…with little dialogue and a lot of atmosphere’. I’m still in the process of watching more films by Melville but the most recent one I have seen was an earlier film which he made in 1956 called Bob le Flambeur about a middle-aged gambler who on the verge of going broke plans a major casino heist. This ones a clear homage to American film noir and probably his most ‘mainstream’ film I’ve seen. It’s got great characters and is really fun to watch.
Now those were the two big directors whose films I’ve watched for the first time this summer but I’ve been so familiar with the works of Alfred Hitchcock that I sometimes take him for granted and tend to forget what a genius he is. The British Film Institute here in London is doing a  Hitchcock Festival this year appropriately named The Genius Of Hitchcock, from June to October. They’re screening almost all of his films including a few newly restored silent films like The Lodgera film which is considered by many including Mr Hitchcock himself to be the first true Hitchcock film. To celebrate the films of Hitchcock myself, I’m going to do the Alfred Hitchcock Challenge, it’ll work exactly the same as the Ingmar Bergman Challenge, where I watched one Bergman film per week. I’ve started this week with the film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) the american remake starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. I’m not going in chronological or alphabetical order here so the way I watch these films will be quite random. Below there will be a list of films I have already seen, many of which I’ve seen more than once; Psycho, Rope and Dial M for Murder, I’m sure I’ve seen at least 10 times. Next week will be the 1944 film Lifeboat

 

Saboteur (1942)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Rope (1948)

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Rear Window (1954)

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Vertigo (1958)

North by Northwest (1959)

Psycho (1960)

The Birds (1963)

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