In Robert Bresson‘s first feature film, Angels of Sin (1943), which I saw on YouTube, righteous behavior intersects with the worldly behavior of a desperate soul. Here, a zealous young nun, Anne-Marie (Renee Faure), tries to Christianly love a female ex-con (Jany Holt) taking refuge in Anne-Marie’s convent. Unknown to the convent sisters, she is there after having committed a murder.
Less oddly directed than Bresson’s later films, Angels is also less spiritually vivid and resonant, and is far from first-rate. It is a serious picture, though, and does well in showing the distinctive lives of nuns. To my mind, frankly, it is about the impossibility of saintliness (but not sacrifice), albeit we also infer from it that the devout life is a good life.
(In French with English subtitles)
Bart (John Dall), one of the central characters in 1949’s Gun Crazy, has always been obsessed with guns but horrified of killing. He begins a love affair with a sharpshooter-entertainer, Laurie (Peggy Cummins), who admits to being “no good,” by which she means she is disposed to steal and, worse, will kill out of fear. And she does get fearful as the two embark on a life of armed robbery.
The suggestion could be made that the film deals with America’s love for guns except that Laurie is supposed to be from London. Besides, was there ever any talk of America’s love for guns in 1949? No, Gun Crazy is a thriller about two individuals who are gun-crazy enough to turn to armed crime. It is also pretty romantic: Bart and Laurie genuinely love each other, notwithstanding a quick second of betrayal occurs at the end.
Cleverly directed by Joseph H. Lewis, this noir achievement is riveting and unpretentious. Absolutely fine in their parts, John Dall has an appealing face a trifle more friendly than handsome, and Peggy Cummins has a face with a schoolgirl charm and an overall gorgeous appearance.
Peggy Cummins (Photo credit: classic film scans)
That it boasts sophisticated dialogue and was filmed in Italy is nearly enough to render the American film, Beat the Devil (1953), by John Huston, an art-house adventure story—or, put another way, a minor work of art. It stars Humphrey Bogart and, because of its second half, is in my view a failure. The first half is sparkling and intriguing, the second half thin and trivial. The only two reasons I watch Beat the Devil is to hear that dialogue (not without plenty of wit) and to see the sheer pulchritude of Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida. But the genuinely good Huston movies of the 1950s, I say, are The Asphalt Jungle and The African Queen.
A Friend of the Deceased, from 1997, is yet another movie about economic troubles in Central and Eastern Europe, this time in post-Soviet Ukraine. It has a fairly happy ending, but before we reach it there are messages about the gangster-style cheapening of human life and people living practically for the bare necessities. There is also one about hopeful living, though.
Directed by a twosome, the film is a trifle unsteady but still smart and involving.
(In Ukrainian with English subtitles)
Image via Wikipedia
The morally healthy Bella (2007), by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, is a charitable failure. It’s unaccepting of abortion–unlike its pregnant main character Nina, well acted by Tammy Blanchard.
Nina doesn’t want the baby inside her, but receives manly compassion and then some from a chef and ex-soccer star called Jose (Eduardo Verastegui). The screenplay, I regret to point out–why did it take three men to write it?–is careless, basically ramshackle. One wonders whether Jose’s accidental killing of a child, wrenching as it is, would actually induce the man to give up a lucrative pro soccer career and become a chef. One wonders, really, how Nina could have been so feckless as to get pregnant by a fellow she cares nothing about. I’m not sure I know what’s going on in Monteverde’s film.
Ostensibly Christian, presumably spiritual, Bella is in truth pseudo-religious. Jose may or may not be a genuine Christ follower; it isn’t clear. The movie is not exactly a Francois Mauriac novel, or even Au Hazard Balthazar. If it were, it would possess a brilliance consistently missing from evangelical fiction films.