Le Grand Restaurant (1966)

Or, in English, The Restaurant. Though, personally, I think the ‘grand’ of the original French title suits this film better, because the very grandness and importance of Septime—the eponymous ‘grand (or great) restaurant’—is what makes it the site of a very high-profile abduction…

I watched this film because I found it in a list of ‘food films’ and got very excited at the thought of an old food film. As it happened, there’s not that much food in Le Grand Restaurant, after all. Despite that, it’s a film worth watching.

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The Odd Couple (1968)

RIP, Neil Simon.

I read about the death of Neil Simon, playwright and scriptwriter (among other roles—including producer and director) on August 26th, admittedly with some level of blankness. The name sounded familiar (or was I simply mixing him up with Neil Diamond?) but I couldn’t, without help, associate Neil Simon with any film.

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La Femme du Boulanger (1938)

Or, in English, The Baker’s Wife.

Recently, across a period of about three months, I’ve had to watch a slew of films from across the world (for an article I needed to research). While making my way through films from the US, Brazil, Spain, France, Mexico, Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam… and of course, closer home, Hindi cinema—it came home to me rather forcibly just how much of a gap there often is (and has been, for many years) between Hollywood and much of the rest of the world.

The Hays Code, applied to Hollywood productions between 1930 and 1968, imposed restrictions on the scenes shown—the sex, the violence, etc—as well as the language, the themes, the messages and more. But even later, after the Hays Code was no longer applicable, I’ve realized how much more tame Hollywood is when compared to other cinema (for instance, from France, Spain, or Mexico, to name just three countries, recently-watched films of which were far removed from what Hollywood would make). Hollywood’s risqué is often tame for Europe. (And Indian cinema, across regions, seems to faithfully follow Hollywood in this matter, though it’s much tamer even than Hollywood).

Anyway, on to one of the films that highlighted this point for me. La Femme du Boulanger is a French film about a middle-aged baker who sets up a bakery and patisserie in a sleepy village in the French countryside, along with his pretty wife to help him out—and within a couple of days, the wife has run off with a local buck. In Hollywood, this would have been probably treated quite seriously; in France, it becomes more a comedy than anything else. All anybody is really worried about is that their baker has gone off his desire to bake, so they’re not getting bread any more…

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A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man gave me a slew of Beatles-related information some weeks back. More specifically, information related to a film—A Hard Day’s Night—which starred the Beatles and was about them. Not a bio-pic, not a completely fictitious story (as many of Elvis’s films were, with him playing characters in no way related to his real self). But something in between. Fact and fiction.

Hurdy Gurdy Man informed me that the Beatles’ album A Hard Day’s Night had released in the UK on July 10th, 1964. Just four days earlier, on July 6th, 1964, the film of the same name had also been released in the UK (it was released in August in the US). Also, other than Paul McCartney (whose 76th birthday was on June 18th), the only other surviving Beatle—Ringo Starr—has his birthday today.

In celebration, therefore, a review of this very watchable little film about four wildly successful young men who—in the course of a mere decade (they teamed up as a quartet in 1960, and fell apart in 1970)—changed the way pop music sounded and was perceived. The legendary Beatles, acting as themselves, in a film about themselves.

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Hoří, má Panenko (1967)

Or, in English, The Firemen’s Ball.

I came across this film some months back, and since its description sounded enticing, I got it. Ever since, I’ve been meaning to watch it; finally, about a week back, having written up the post for a landmark anniversary I wanted to celebrate (William Holden’s birth centenary), I figured it was finally time I got around to watching The Firemen’s Ball. And it was then, just a few days back, that I discovered that the film’s director, Miloš Forman, had passed away, on the 13th of April.

To Hollywood audiences, Forman is known for Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, both of which won him Oscars for Best Director. But before he left his homeland Czechoslovakia and moved to the US, Forman was a well-established director in Czech cinema too, being generally acknowledged as a important personality of Czech New Wave Cinema. His first Czech-language colour film was The Firemen’s Ball, a comedy that satirized the corruption pervading Communist Eastern Europe at the time.

The film begins sombrely. In an office at a fire department, a group of senior firemen have gathered to discuss something important. A finely crafted and engraved piece (a fireman’s axe) is being passed around the table and admired by all. The annual firemen’s ball is coming up, and this item is to be presented on the occasion of the ball to the fire department’s ex-President, who is going to be turning 86.

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A Night to Remember (1942)

Last May, my husband, my daughter and I shifted house. We’ve shifted house before (though never with a toddler in tow), but this time was rather more harrowing than every previous experience. The movers and packers we’d hired turned out to be a thoroughly inefficient and poorly trained lot, requiring constant supervision. They left debris—newspaper, scraps of cardboard and more—littered all across our new home, and the dumped al my books, each one of my precious books, in one untidy pile on the floor.

Then, on the second day in the new house, an insect flew into my eye and caused an infection that didn’t go for a month. Within the first week, the RO conked out; the kitchen tap suddenly started spewing black water; and we discovered that one of the pipes was so badly choked with plaster left behind by the repair-and-renovation gang that it had to be torn up and redone.

But at least we didn’t have people getting murdered in our backyard.

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Pendekar Bujang Lapok (1959)

This blog reminds me sometimes of a sort of railway platform—the type from the Sunil Dutt-Nalini Jaywant starrer, where a bunch of people end up spending several days in each other’s company, and then go their separate ways. Because, while there are some loyal friends who stick to this blog (and have done so over the years), the majority of people who comment on it are those who stay for a few months, a few weeks, maybe even just a few days, commenting like mad, and then vanish, never to be seen again.

One such person was a Malaysian, of Indian origin but settled in Australia, who haunted my blog several years ago. After some very hectic commenting on just about every post I published (and that included multiple comments, and involved conversations), she asked me for some Agony Aunt-ish advice offline, and having received both that as well as a shoulder to cry on, went off. I haven’t heard from her ever since.

But one thing she did manage to do while she was frequenting this blog: she told me enough about Malaysian cinema of the 50s and 60s to make me want to watch it. Something, I realized soon enough, that wasn’t going to be easy, because there didn’t seem to be too many Malaysian films of that era that were available with English subtitles.

I’ve persevered, though, and sometime back I found time one. Pendekar Bujang Lapok (The Three Bachelor Warriors) is the second in a highly successful series of films made by iconic film-maker and actor P Ramlee. It has been called one of the five best Malaysian films to be shot in Singapore, and considering I’ve just returned from a trip to Singapore, I figured it was time to watch this.

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The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)

I have said, time and again, that I have a lot to be grateful for to the readers of this blog. Not only do all of you keep me going by reading my posts, commenting on them and discussing them (even going off on tangents!), you also educate me, enlighten me, entertain me—and, importantly, give me recommendations now and then.

Especially over the past few months, I have seen several memorable (and, at least to me, obscure) films that came to my notice simply because readers recommended them to me. The Outrage was recommended by Hurdy Gurdy Man; Neeru told me about Leave Her to Heaven; and CP Rajagopalan mentioned The Secret of Santa Vittoria. Not once, but in two separate comments, which prompted me to hurry up and watch it. And yes, what a film this turned out to be.

The eponymous Santa Vittoria is a small town in Italy where the story opens just before dawn sometime near the end of World War II. The earnest and excited Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini) comes racing to the church, waking up the priest and insisting on ringing the church bells, because there’s such momentous news… when the dazed, sleepy and generally stoic-looking residents of Santa Vittoria gather around in the square, Fabio shares his news: Mussolini is gone.  Fascism has ended!

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Chakrapani (1954)

Every few months, I go on a rampage, looking for old regional language films with English subtitles.

One of the saddest facts I’ve realized over the past few years—since I became interested in films in languages other than Hindi and English—is that while a considerable number of good foreign language films can be found with subtitles, the same cannot be said for Indian cinema. More modern films can be found subbed (though the quality of subbing is often questionable); but old cinema? Not much hope. About the only Indian language, other than Hindi, for which I have often been able to find English-subbed films, is Bengali. Perhaps the fact that stalwarts like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak are so popular outside India has had a ripple effect on films by other directors of the same era as well.

Anyway, without further ado: my latest find. A few weeks back, trawling Youtube for subbed films, I came across the Telugu comedy Chakrapani. I’d never heard of this before, but comedy is a genre I am always eager to dive into (perhaps because Hindi cinema itself was so short of outright comedies?). And guess what? This was quite an entertainer.

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Fanfan la Tulipe (1952)

I’ve been on a swashbuckler spree these past few weeks, what with a couple of Hindi films and then the Bengali film, Jhinder Bondi. Before I drift off into another genre, I decided I may as well finally watch a film that has been in my to-watch pile for several years now: Fanfan la Tulipe, or Fanfan the Tulip, a swashbuckler with plenty of comedy and romance thrown in. This, originally made by director Christian-Jaque in 1952, was remade in 2003, this time being directed by Gérard Krawczyk.

Fanfan la Tulipe starts off funnily with a dryly witty narration about war, which plays out against a background visual of French soldiers at war. It is the reign of Louis XV (Marcel Herrand). The Seven Years’ War is in progress, and with more men having been killed than are left alive, Louis (who loses hats, not heads, and is therefore able to swiftly get a new hat every time) announces that more Frenchmen must enlist.

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